This morning we wake up to the news that Andy Rooney has died following complications from surgery at the age of 92. Like many of you, I’m saddened to hear of this.
Me, perhaps more so, because I had the occasion of meeting and speaking with Andy when I did some work for CBS News at their West 57th Street office in New York years ago.
Back in 1989 when I worked for WeatherNews, I designed a broadcast graphics system for television weather presentation based on the old IBM-AT with its 286 Intel processor and “massive” 20 megabyte hard drive. This was in the era of MS-DOS 3.0 It was based on the venerable Targa frame buffer board, and my own specially designed RGB to NTSC broadcast quality video encoder board, the first ever such device to fit on a full length PC card. CBS news bought one of these systems to deliver satellite imagery and weather maps to its affiliates via their satellite newsfeed service called CBS Newspath.
Being the inventor of this system, naturally I got the job of installing it at CBS News. It was a proud moment for me to be able to enter the place that at that time I considered the “revered halls of broadcast journalism”. Most of the work though was in a control room, behind equipment racks, away from the on-air product of the studios. Getting our 9600 baud modem to connect and deliver images and get the presentation system working automatically was a challenge, but I relished the work.
On my second day there, I had the occasion of heading down from the 4th floor to the basement where they had the commissary to get some lunch. On the elevator ride back up, it stopped on the first floor, and when the doors opened, this curmudgeonly guy in a beige trench-coat gets on, none other than Andy Rooney himself. Being no stranger to the hassles that sometimes follow you from being on television, my mind raced to find something to say without looking stupid or to give away my being in awe of the man.
I managed to blurt out “Good day Mr. Rooney”. His response was a grunt while looking at the elevator panel, next to me, then he said “three” (IIRC) which was the floor he wanted, and I dutifully punched the button.
Of course I didn’t know what else to say, but when he got off the elevator, I felt obliged to say something as he was leaving. I said. (thinking of his work but being too dumbstruck to elucidate it properly) “Thank you Mr. Rooney”.
He turned and looked at me, maybe wondering “What the hell is this idiot thanking me for?” and then I added “Your broadcasts”.
He grunted an “eh” turned, and with that trundled down the hallway. I recall thinking to myself, “he’s just like he is on TV, a curmudgeon”. A few years later, when his book came out, I was pleased to see this passage about elevators:
I suppose it might be vanity for me to think that maybe in some small way I contributed to that passage. I was just one of thousands of such events in his lifetime no doubt.
Like many, I’ll miss Andy, here is his farewell.
I often tuned in for the last 5 minutes to see what my elevator buddy was going on about this week, but now I have no reason whatsoever to watch 60 Minutes again, as I can’t stand the biased reporting.