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Timothy J. Russert Sr., 'Big Russ,' dies at 85

Timothy J. Russert Sr., father of the late "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert, has died at age 85, CNN reported Thursday.

Known as "Big Russ," the elder Russert became famous in his own right after being the subject of a best-selling book by Tim, who died of a heart attack at 58 in June 2008.

In a statement released Thursday, the Russert family asked for privacy.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Timothy Joseph Russert," it read.

"While he was affectionately known to the world as 'Big Russ,' he carried no more important nor meaningful titles than those of father, grandfather, great-grandfather, patriot and friend. He passed peacefully with his family at his side from natural causes at the age of 85," the statement continued.

"Big Russ & Me: Father and Son -- Lessons of Life" was published in 2004 and chronicled the life of the man who Tim Russert said steered him through life with his scrappy South Buffalo wisdom and salt-of-the-earth Irish Catholic values. The elder Russert had worked two jobs, driving a City of Buffalo sanitation truck and a Buffalo News delivery truck.
"Big Russ" had learned that his son died two days before Father's Day in June 2008.

In a June 16, 2004, appearance with his father on NBC's "Today" show, Tim Russert said his father "used to say: 'Put your nose to the grindstone and hope for the best.' "

Tim Russert described his father as an eternal optimist.

Friends of the younger Russert noted at the time that father and son were very close, according to a June 15, 2008, Buffalo News article after Tim Russert's death, and that closeness extended to Tim's son, Luke, who also works for NBC.

Don Huber, a family friend, said at the time that "Big Russ" never missed NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday mornings, and Tim Russert would mention how he considered his father a one-person focus group.

Huber remembered how a few years back, while "Big Russ" was hospitalized, Tim Russert ended the program by announcing that he was sending him a gift that afternoon. "Big Russ" didn't know what the gift would be. Then, Tim "walked in the door," Huber said. ". . . What it was, was him."

"No matter what," recalled another friend, Raymond E. McGirr, "they called each other every day on the phone."
e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com1