Ten years since Tim Russert’s passing, his son Luke remembers one of the island’s most beloved residents.
Every August, the legacy of the late, great Tim Russert is remembered on the Nantucket at Boys & Girls Club Summer Groove celebration. A former member and lifelong supporter of the Club, Russert served as the Summer Groove’s host until his untimely passing in 2008. With this summer marking a decade since Russert’s death, N Magazine spoke to his son Luke about what his father loved about Nantucket, the Boys & Girls Club, and living on island time.
RUSSERT: He first visited the island as a college student in the early seventies. Back then his summer rental was the bench outside The Hub till he got a living room floor after some smooth talking at a beach party. He was attracted not only to the natural beauty and the people, but the vibe. Everyone thinks of my dad as this hard hitting journalist, but he went to Woodstock and was part of that generation. The relaxed pace of the island appealed to him in the seventies and for the rest of his life. As life got more hectic, Nantucket became the place where he could hold onto that vibe from the seventies, that time when he was just a kid crashing on a living room floor and taking in everything the island had to offer.
N MAGAZINE: Why do you think Nantucket resonated with him?
RUSSERT: The core of Nantucket is and will always be the local people and their community spirit. People look out for one another, and everyone knows everybody. There is a lot of South Buffalo in Nantucket in that respect. My father liked how there was a “guy for this, a guy to do that” on Nantucket. You weren’t put through some corporate switchboard. That small-town village feel was a real reason he and my mom decided to plant roots on-island.
RUSSERT: Fishing, nine holes at the old Miacomet golf club, buying papers at The Hub, Saturday afternoon mass at St. Mary’s, beers at the Angler’s Club, cover bands at The Box, grilling in our backyard and then pool basketball with my buddies when we got back from Nobadeer.
N MAGAZINE: Was he able to disconnect from the news of the day when he was on-island?
RUSSERT: He’d disconnect to the best of his abilities. Remember, he passed away before WIFI became what it is today. It was a struggle for him, even in the nineties. At our house in Madaket, he’d carry what was roughly a satellite phone in case anything happened. However, there were days when he totally tuned out and those were a thrill to see and experience. One thing he was adamant about was never doing TV hits from Nantucket. He thought it was disrespectful to the island and to the audience at home, too.
N MAGAZINE: Of the many contributions your father made to the Nantucket community, he hosted the summer Boston Pops on Nantucket concert. Why do you think he was willing to “work” during the time that was designated for relaxing here on Nantucket?
RUSSERT: My dad’s favorite saying was that there is no better exercise for the human heart than lifting up another person. That was his core belief. He knew he was blessed with a beautiful home on a beautiful island and that it was his responsibility to give back for that blessing. He also liked to help people, he was really into providing chances. The chance to succeed was very important to him and he saw the Boys and Girls Club as the perfect venue for that on-island.
RUSSERT: His dad was a member of the club in South Buffalo, as was he. I was a member in DC. It gets to the idea of giving kids a chance. My father was well aware of the struggles faced by folks working long hours on-island and knew that parents couldn’t always be there. Kids don’t do well with idle time. My father wanted to give them a chance to succeed, and the club did and continues to do that. All about giving kids a chance.
N MAGAZINE: What do you think your father would think of how the island has changed in the last decade?
RUSSERT: Personally, I think it would upset him. He was drawn to the idea that you came to Nantucket not to show off your wealth but to get away from the outside world and relax. The deepest bonds he had on island were with those crusty old summer residents who had holes in their khakis, fish guts on their shirt and drove an old beat up Wagoneer. They had plenty of money but never flashed it or spoke of it. I remember a few years ago I saw a door person with an earpiece at a restaurant on Nantucket, my father would have shed a tear over that. There’s now an arms race of the elite on Nantucket, and it has changed the character of the place. The island needs more places like the late Starlight Theatre as opposed to another trendy $50 entree locale. There’s nothing wrong with wealth, but Nantucket isn’t for flashy Porsche SUVs, there’s the Hamptons for that.
RUSSERT: Yes. Our house on Nantucket was his “making it” moment. I remember how he treated the first time my grandpa came for a visit. Sort of a “we’re a long way from South Buffalo” moment. His ghost is around Shimmo for sure.
N MAGAZINE: Is there any advice you would give someone when it comes to grieving the loss of a parent?
RUSSERT: Remember the good times, don’t become consumed by grief because the situation isn’t changing. And in the immediate aftermath, do what makes you and your family comfortable, because in that moment you’re there for yourself and your family — that’s it.