Video: Looking back: Tim Russert and "Big Russ"

By Washington bureau chief
NBC News
updated 2/13/2007 7:38:44 PM ET 2007-02-14T00:38:44

My Dad, Big Russ, is a fiercely independent man — always has been.

He left high school to fight in World War II and was badly injured when his B-24 Liberator crashed.

Back home in Buffalo, N.Y., he raised four kids with my Mom, who sadly, died a year and half ago.

He always met every challenge, working round the clock with two fulltime jobs, but living alone is hard.

Big Russ: It gets lonely, but I have a lot of people helping.

Tim Russert: You got a great team.

Now, at 83, Dad has slowed down. Still, he won't ask for help and won't consider a retirement home.

Russert: When I tried to talk to you about going to the assisted living place, you wouldn't get out of the car.

Big Russ: Nah, nah, don't get them going. They'll be calling me up.

A lot of responsibility falls on my sister, Kiki, who lives nearby. Things like replacing batteries and solving the problems of daily life.

Neighborhood friend Mike Shea can be over in a matter of minutes if the power goes out.

Shea: I know when he needs something even if he doesn't need it. I'm a step ahead of him a lot of times.

My sisters and I call several times a day, too many times according to Dad, and there is a frequent care package from me.

Lunch and dinner are lovingly prepared by neighbor Jean Passafiume.

Big Russ: It's enough to feed two.

Passafiume: You have to feed the soul and brain. You feed both and you have a good life. Remember that.

My Dad's favorite — corned beef and cabbage at the Blackthorn Club, where old buddies raise their glasses once a month.

Patrick the poet(reads a poem to the men): When you are young, it's not hard to write, but as the years pass along sometimes words, that once were there, are just not right.

Russert(to the men): I want to thank you so much for embracing him. It means everything to him and everything to me.

On this night, all I had to do was help Dad with his coat. But tomorrow it's support from a team who gives my Dad the love and dignity he deserves.

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