Judging from the huge crowd and the adoring e-mails and letters that poured in before the event, the celebration was long overdue. Rooney, famous for complaining about the countless indignities of old age, had recently turned 91.
With verbal acuity, humor, and loyalty at center stage, the event was Colgate through and through.
As master of ceremonies, Jeff Fager ’77, P’06, executive producer of CBS’ 60 Minutes, combined reverie and reverence, taking almost as many good-natured digs at Colgate as he did at Rooney. In the end, both man and alma mater prevailed.
In a 12-minute video, produced for the event by CBS, fellow correspondent Morley Safer fondly called Rooney a “crinkly old loudmouth speaking on behalf of pissed-off citizens,” and “America’s grouch in chief.”
On stage, Safer read a series of mock fan letters, including one supposedly from God. Correspondent Lesley Stahl coquettishly teased about the many times she tried in vain to attract Rooney’s amorous attention at the elevator banks at CBS, only to be rebuffed with yet another of his cranky routines. The word “eyebrows” was uttered more than a few times.
Four of Colgate’s best and brightest journalists also weighed in on Rooney’s universal appeal as well as the influence he had on them.
“I do blame you for getting me into journalism, which is the best thing that ever happened to me,” said ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff ’83, P’13.
While witnessing the Tiananmen Square protests in China on his first CBS assignment, Woodruff recalled being inspired by Rooney’s efforts to demystify the violence there for the average American.
Due to bad weather in Washington, Howard Fineman ’70, Newsweek Washington columnist and NBC news analyst, sent his tribute by e-mail.
CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger ’74, P’10 delivered hers via a Rooneyesque video in which she articulated what many were thinking: that in addition to the iconic Rooney, Colgate has turned out a disproportionate number of award-winning journalists over the years.
To continue that tradition into perpetuity, Colgate interim president Lyle Roelofs surprised Rooney with the announcement that proceeds from the event had funded the creation of the Andrew A. Rooney ’42 Endowed Scholarship — and that every single person in the room had not only contributed, but kept the scholarship a secret.
At last, as Fager had promised, it was Rooney’s son Brian ’74, ABC News correspondent, who stole the show with stories told at his father’s expense.
“This is a man who got rich and famous with the same act that ran at the other end of the dinner table,” Rooney said. “This is a man who will send the wine back to the kitchen in his own home.”