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Son, colleagues pay tribute to Mike Wallace

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace turned and blew a kiss to a giant portrait of his father, "60 Minutes" journalist Mike Wallace, after memorializing him Tuesday as "the best journalist I have ever known."

Former colleagues, friends and family members swapped stories about Wallace in an auditorium a few blocks from where he worked, before an audience that included GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and journalism luminaries such as Roger Ailes and Carl Bernstein. The public face of TV's most enduring newsmagazine for nearly four decades, Mike Wallace died at age 93 on April 7.

Some of the stories were flattering, some less so. And despite the somber purpose of remembering the recently deceased, some were hilarious.

After years of a tense relationship, caused in part by Chris trying to escape his father's giant shadow, his son recalled how Mike called him every day to see how he was doing when Chris was going through a divorce. "That's how we became father and son," he said.

As dementia began stripping away his intellect in his final years, "what remained of Mike Wallace was a sweet and gentle man," he said.

Former colleague Morely Safer had his own complicated relationship with Wallace -- the two once didn't speak for a year for reasons Safer no longer remembers -- but Safer remembered him fondly as a man "who did not merely live life. He attacked it."

Safer recalled when his colleagues, as a practical joke, composed a fake letter from a sperm bank seeking a donation from Wallace to join the Nobel prize winners and other notables who had made their own contributions. Wallace proudly showed the letter around the office, he recalled.

"It took an hour to convince him he had been had," Safer said.

Speakers poked fun at Wallace's vanity and how he relished the attention when in 2004 an altercation with a police officer over Wallace's double-parked car led to tabloid headlines. He would have loved Tuesday's memorial at the Time Warner Center, and he would have asked for a crowd count "to see if more people showed up for his memorial than showed up for ['60 Minutes' founding executive producer Don] Hewitt's," said Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and current executive producer of "60 Minutes."

Speakers recalled how Wallace remained a force of nature.

Once he went into producer Josh Howard's office and suggested a story on Willie Nelson. That's unusual for Mike, Howard thought, but said Willie Nelson could be a good idea.

"Why the [expletive] would I want to do Willie Nelson?" Wallace thundered. "What I said was, 'Winnie and Nelson.' You know, Mandela? Possibly you've heard of them. I hadn't realized I had wandered into the toy department."