A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope by Tom Brokaw, Random House, 230 pages, $27. “In the seasons of life, I have had more than my share of summers” is how Tom Brokaw opens his new “memoir of hope.” “A long run of sunny days and adventurous nights filled with lucky stars, uninterrupted by great personal calamity, rewarding in ways I could not have imagined in those formative years on the Great Plains.”
Nevertheless, his daughter Jennifer, the emergency room physician, worried. “ ‘Dad’ she would say, we’ve never had anything really go wrong with our family. I wonder if we could handle it.’ ”
In February 2013, as Brokaw turned 73, he went to Africa with his wife, Meredith, and found himself with recurring back pains. Eventually comes the diagnosis “Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow.” Doctors tell him, “It is treatable but not curable.” His primary care physician at the Mayo Clinic was Dr. Andrew Majka, assigned to him there “several years ago.” When Brokaw learned that Majka “was born in Buffalo, N.Y. and grew up in the area, beloved home of my late colleague Tim Russert, the legendary ‘Meet the Press’ host and Buffalo’s leading cheerleader,” he mentioned it to Majka. Who replied, “Oh, I know. The two worst things for Buffalo were losing Tim and wide right in ninety-one,’ the year the bad-luck Buffalo Bills lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants on a missed field goal from twenty-nine yards out with just eight seconds left in the game. Dr. Majka and I developed a bond from that moment on.”
Brokaw isn’t the first star anchor of TV news to write best-sellers nor, no doubt, will he be the last. The late Peter Jennings, for instance, had a major best-seller, but it is to Brokaw, more than anyone probably, that we owe the very idea of World War II’s generation as “The Greatest Generation.” As was his friend Russert, he is nothing if not an engaging narrator. He doesn’t have the raffish after-dinner speaker charm of Russert telling stories to, say, old Canisius classmates, but his story of his life with cancer is hugely readable. No wonder his colleague Brian Williams so needed to tell stories.
– Jeff Simon