My husband Jerry Dunfey and his brothers are the founders of Omni/Dunfey Hotels International and their Wayfarer was the hotel where all the media gathered in the 1960s when the New Hampshire primary campaign first began to be covered on television. In fact, even as news coverage expanded and media from around the world gathered in NH at many hotels, the Wayfarer was still the place where many continued to congregate in the bar and in the Dunfey hospitality suite. So, we’d known Walter Cronkite for a long time. On the tenth anniversary of Anwar Sadat’s assassination when I was serving as NYC City Commissioner for the United Nations, Consular Corps and International Business, we held a special screening at the UN of a CBS film Gordon Hyatt produced about Sadat’s life, which featured an in-depth interview by Walter. After the large public event, Jerry and I hosted an intimate dinner at our apartment for Sadat’s widow Jehan, Walter and his wife Betsy, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and his wife Leia, Gordon and his wife Carole, and the Egyptian Ambassador to the UN and his wife. Betsy fell in love with our apartment and I always liked to tease them after they bought their apartment in our building that coming to dinner at ours was why.
In the years after they moved here from their townhouse we often got together, sometimes at one or the other of our apartments, sometimes going across the street to the Italian restaurant Da Mario. We always joked that, with just as good food, we were glad to have this neighborhood restaurant at a fraction of the price from that of another far more trendy Italian “place to be seen” around the corner. During those evenings after the second round of drinks we could rely on belly laughing as the result of your Betsy’s remarkably rye sense of humor. We also went each year to the wonderful Christmas holiday party Walter and Betsy hosted for their friends from far-flung universes given the extraordinary spectrum of their involvements. When Walter bought a second apartment down the hall from us for his office, we saw even more of him. Sometimes he’d call me up and ask me to amble down the hall for a chat: in fact, at one point he and I talked about sharing that space for our work before I got an office in the adjacent building.
We loved to listen to their great stories especially about dancing the Vienna Waltz, which elicited such sheer joy from both of them, as stories of sailing did for Walter. We were with him at Betsy’s funeral four years ago and after her death we were happy he found an end-of-life companion in Joanna Simon. She and her husband, who’d also died, had been friends with Walter and Betsy so it was perfect for both of them. The last time the two of them came to our apartment for brunch at 11am, Joanna had to leave just before 2pm but Walter stayed until 5pm regaling us for seven hours with stories of his experiences with Edward R. Murrow and others as fabled. Despite his difficulty hearing, his intellect and wit were as sharp as a tack and it was a pure joy to hear him not just tell the old stories but also describe his latest passions and what he was doing about them. Since we share the same political and social perspective, the latter was always particularly gratifying for us to see how Walter soldiered on for noble causes. When Jerry turned 70 four years ago, Walter wrote him a beautiful letter in which he said not to stop just because other people might think he was old, which meant so much to us.
Over this past year, we would see Walter’s long-time executive assistant, Marlene Adler, wheeling him in or out of the building and could see that he was declining rapidly. We always spoke to him even when it appeared he had no idea of who we were because you never know what might be going on behind that seemingly blank screen. How fortunate he was to have such a committed colleague in Marlene. But, as I shared with her since I’m dealing with many of the same issues with relatives who are close to his age, I know how painful it is to see someone you love deeply – who has been so vibrant, passionate and intellectually astute – start to disappear. So, it is with full hearts and deep feelings of compassion that we thank the extended Cronkite family for sharing him with so many and we extend heartfelt sympathy to each of them.