Three decades of ramblings by Charles Kuralt ended Tuesday in a sunny cemetery where friends and colleagues bid farewell to the folksy storyteller whose backroads journalism captivated America.
“Good-bye, old dear friend,” said William Friday, the University of North Carolina’s president emeritus who hurriedly arranged a burial plot for Kuralt, 62, who died unexpectedly Friday. “We will remember, always remember.”
Relatives of the North Carolinian who gained fame reporting “On the Road” segments for CBS News and then as the network’s “Sunday Morning” anchor had Kuralt’s body transported by plane from New York City for Tuesday’s burial in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
With the Bell Tower chiming across the campus where Kuralt edited “The Daily Tar Heel” as a student 40 years ago, the private burial drew celebrities and dignitaries, including CBS News anchor Dan Rather, PBS talk show host Charlie Rose and North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt.
Black funeral cars delivered the burial party to Memorial Hall, where an estimated 1,600 people cried, laughed and sweat profusely during an hour-long memorial service that lacked air conditioning.
“He was too young and too good to leave us,” Rose said. “All of us, when we heard the story on July 4, on Independence Day, that he was gone, wanted to say, ‘Stop, one more story, one more conversation, introduce me to one more person that reflects America. Give me one more gentle reminder of who we are and what the great fabric of this nation is about.”’
“This moment, the world seems empty,” UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker said.
Kuralt died in New York Hospital recovering from heart disease and complications from lupus, a chronic disease that he only recently was diagnosed as having.
In a note to Friday written two days before he died, Kuralt said he was feeling better but asked his longtime friend to help him secure a gravesite in Chapel Hill.
A frequent visitor to Chapel Hill, Kuralt helped raised $5 million in private funds for the university’s School of Social Work’s new building.
What distinguished the balding, dumpy newsman who reported from Vietnam, Latin America and other world hot spots, Hunt said Tuesday, was that he worked “to tell the stories of us, the people of America, all over America. He did it with a zest, an enthusiasm, an obvious love of those people and those places that we found compelling.”