I called my recent interview with WKBW-TV (Channel 7) legend Irv Weinstein “one of the toughest I’ve ever done.”
Irv was in good spirits in the telephone discussion Friday about being diagnosed a few weeks ago with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Truth be told, I was the one who lost composure and got emotional a few times during the interview. Weinstein was a rock.
Since the interview was carried in this newspaper Sunday, I have been asked how it came about.
I was first alerted to Weinstein’s condition by former WKBW-TV General Manager Phil Beuth in an email sent to many people who know Irv. Beuth noted that Irv “might enjoy a call” and left Weinstein’s cell number in Mission Viejo, Calif.
I decided that I should put my news hat to the side, call the man that I had covered for decades, wish him well and see if he wanted this private situation to go public. He didn’t initially answer a couple of my calls, so I sent him an email telling him I was thinking of him and praying for him and asking him to give me a call if he could. He responded briefly in an email with his diagnosis and added: “No complaint. I’ve had a great life, and the love and support of family and friends that will carry me through to my last breath.”
That response led me to write another email in which I told him that I wouldn’t write anything without talking to him first and having his permission. Then I called his cellphone again.
This time, he answered. He didn’t exactly sound like the Irv Weinstein Western New Yorkers have known and loved. He spoke somewhat haltingly, with the disease obviously taking some toll.
I must admit I didn’t start the conversation very smoothly. I begin with the obligatory, “How are you, Irv?” I wanted it back as soon as I asked it. Of course, it was a dumb question. Irv laughed and made me feel at ease.
After a brief conversation, I asked him if he would like to tell his fans in Buffalo about his condition, thinking a story would lead to many messages of support from 3,000 miles away. He said that would be fine and we proceeded with the telephone interview for about 18 minutes, with the last five or so with his incredibly-supportive wife Elaine.
They both made it easy for me.
A film aficionado, Irv immediately gave a great quote about one of his favorite movies, “The Pride of the Yankees,” in which Gary Cooper starred as Lou Gehrig.
Elaine noted how much her husband appreciated his “wonderful” years in Western New York. They moved to California 15 years ago, but had a vacation home in Ellicottville until about three years ago and visited Western New York periodically. Elaine, who has a master’s degree in environmental design from the University at Buffalo, oversaw the design and construction of the Ellicottville home.
Irv and Elaine were such rocks in the interview that they didn’t for a second question why they were given this challenge.
At the end of the call, Elaine even volunteered to send a recent photograph of her husband.
After the story ran, I received very kind emails from one of Irv’s daughters, Beth Krom, and his son Marc. They said they appreciated the story.
I asked them if I could use their emails in a follow-up blog and they agreed. Here they are, slightly edited.
“My father … would prefer to deliver the news rather than to be a featured story,” wrote Beth. “While he and mom have lived in California for the past 15 years, my dad's heart is firmly embedded in Buffalo, a city that allowed him to grow as a broadcaster and where he was truly welcomed into people's homes each night, like family.
“I know that the love, prayers and well wishes that your article will generate will provide strength, hope and uplift to my dad's spirit. In the absence of a hearty plate of spaghetti parm from Chef's, that will be the best medicine.”
“My sister could not have said it better,” emailed Marc… “and it is true that well wishes from back home will certainly bring him cheer and comfort. My Dad certainly is counting his blessings as he deals with this difficult diagnosis - and, so far, maintaining his sense of humor.”
For anyone wishing to send the Weinsteins good wishes, their address is 27356 Bellogente Road, Apartment 271, Mission Viejo, CA 92691.