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Jim Lehrer, Longtime PBS News Anchor, Has Died At Age 85

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Legendary broadcaster Jim Lehrer has died. For decades, he was a host of PBS' daily news program, which began in 1975 with Robert MacNeil.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

JIM LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. On the "NewsHour" tonight, our summary of the news.

SHAPIRO: Lehrer was known for his calm demeanor and rich voice. He moderated a dozen presidential debates. For many years, Judy Woodruff was Lehrer's colleague. She is now anchor of the "NewsHour" and joins us to remember her friend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Ari - a very, very tough day for all of us here.

SHAPIRO: Do you recall the first time you met Jim Lehrer?

WOODRUFF: You know, I don't recall the first time. But the most vivid memory I have is when I was working at NBC, and I knew that Jim and Robin, who had been doing the half-hour "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" report were planning to expand to an hour, and they were looking for a Washington correspondent, and I was immediately intrigued.

And I came to have a conversation with Jim, and he was just - it was like he was on fire. He was so excited about what he and Robin were planning, that they were going to be the first hourlong national news program. He said, look - you can do serious journalism. You can go in depth. You can do stories that matter. And I was sold (laughter).

SHAPIRO: One of the things he'll be remembered for most is his moderation of presidential debates.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEHRER: I'm Jim Lehrer of the "PBS NewsHour," and I welcome you to the first of the 2012 presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

SHAPIRO: Can you talk a little bit about the role he played in those moments?

WOODRUFF: Well, he became an institution in American life and in our democracy because the Commission on Presidential Debates turned to Jim for 12 debates over the years. And the reason they turned to Jim was because they knew this was somebody who cared about the issues, cared about our democracy and - bottom line - who wasn't going to make these debates about himself.

SHAPIRO: People who only know him as a journalist might not realize that he was also a prolific fiction writer.

WOODRUFF: He was. I mean, this was the real Jim Lehrer. I mean, he...

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: From the time growing up - you know, he grew up as a boy from Kansas. His father had been a bus driver for a while. And at some point, Jim found his way to Texas. But he wrote about growing up. You know, there were tough times. It was during the Depression. He wrote memoirs. He wrote novels. He was the classic journalist. He listened to people. He captured the detail. And he had a wicked sense of humor. I mean, he could slice somebody up in, you know, six ways to Sunday - sorry for the cliche.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

WOODRUFF: But he - you know, he loved writing. Words, to him, were what mattered more than anything. So television was almost a sideline for Jim, and that's funny to say because people think of him as the anchor. But writing was at the core.

SHAPIRO: Well, beyond the journalist and the writer, you knew him for decades. Tell us about how you'll remember Jim Lehrer as a man, as a friend.

WOODRUFF: I remember him as somebody who loved journalism, cared deeply about this country, about the free press, who believed in bringing the best people together to practice journalism, to get the story out to the American people. I remember him as somebody with an incredible sense of humor. I mean, he used to tease me. I - as you may know, I worked at CNN for a number of years. He gave me a hard time about it all the time, and he was that way with everybody. I mean, he loved to tease.

He was a giant and somebody who loved people. He loved storytelling. I can't think of Jim without a smile on his face, without, you know, a laughing Jim, a storytelling Jim, just an alive Jim. That's why I - you know, it's so hard to picture him not around.

SHAPIRO: That's Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the "PBS NewsHour" remembering her late friend and colleague Jim Lehrer, who has died at the age of 85.

Judy, thank you so much.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.