After 42 years with NBC News, George Lewis has retired. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
“One more thing.” It’s something the late Steve Jobs used to say as he was introducing Apple’s latest gadgets, always saving the big surprise for the end of his presentation.
As I end 42 years at NBC News, they’ve asked me to write “one more thing” about my incredible journey — a career that’s taken me to all 50 states, 30-some countries and all of Earth’s continents with the exception of Antarctica. (Going there is on my bucket list of places to see.)
I’m often asked what’s the most memorable story of my career and, after thousands of stories, that’s difficult to answer.
April 30, 1975: NBC's George Lewis reports on the fall of Saigon from the USS Blue Ridge as evacuation efforts are underway.
It was certainly memorable when I got assigned to cover the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979, a crisis that dragged on for 444 days as 52 Americans were held by Iranian extremists.
At one point, correspondent Fred Francis, producer Walter Millis and I were ushered into the embassy for an exclusive interview with one of the hostages, William Gallegos. On the way in, Fred and I both harbored fears that we, too, would be added to the roster of hostages, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, Gallegos gave us a compelling account of what life was like for the hostages, an interview that was aired in prime time back in the USA.
George Lewis reports on the legacy of Steve Jobs.
It was certainly memorable when, in the middle of the Tiananmen Square revolt of 1989, Chinese authorities let us set up our cameras near the balcony overlooking the square, a spot where, 40 years earlier, Chairman Mao had proclaimed the birth of a new, communist China. Looking down on the thousands and thousands of young people camped out there, I asked my colleague, Keith Miller, “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
He allowed as how he hadn’t. A few weeks later, the government decided the demonstrators were a threat to the People’s Republic and ordered the tanks into the square to crush the revolt. We had worn out our welcome by that time and had to keep our cameras hidden in order to record the deadly crackdown.
It was certainly memorable when, in 1993, we launched an NBC Nightly News series called “almost 2001” to explain the impending revolution in information technology. My producers and I discovered that NBC actually had Internet capability that had gone totally unused up to that point.
George Lewis on a story.
“We’re going to ask viewers hooked up to the Internet to send us email,” I explained to one of the executives in New York.
“What’s email?” he asked.
“It’s a system that allows people to send and receive messages on the Internet,” I replied.
“What’s the Internet?”
The conversation seems silly now, but remember, this was 1993.
April 18, 2006: The estimated 7.8 magnitude San Francisco earthquake struck without the faintest whisper of a warning 100 years ago today. NBC's George Lewis reports.
“We’re going to use the series to explain this Internet thing,” I said, “and we’re going to invite people to take it for a spin.”
Then we had to explain to anchor Stone Phillips how to tell people where to send their email.
“You want them to send it to ‘nightly’ at — that’s the little ‘a’ with a circle around it — nbc-dot-com. ‘Dot’ is Internet speak for a period.”
And with that, we launched the Peacock into the Internet age. Within moments of the airing of the first segment, our little email server was abuzz with responses from far and wide -- 8,000-plus by the time the series ended in Christmas week of 1993. And we didn’t get any spam at all. It hadn’t been invented yet.
Dec. 7, 2001: NBC's Tom Brokaw and George Lewis on the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the emotional connection with 9/11.
It was certainly memorable when I climbed aboard an evacuation helicopter manned by U.S. Marines as South Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975. Vietnam had been my first assignment for NBC News, and I had returned to help write the final chapter. At that point, it was the biggest story I had covered since joining the network.
I was brought back down to Earth rapidly when, a few weeks later, I was vacationing in San Diego and a toll taker at the Coronado Bridge quizzed me:
“Aren’t you George Lewis?” the toll taker asked.
“Yes I am,” I replied.
“Didn’t you use to work here in local TV in San Diego?”
“Yes, I did,” I said, my ego swelling.
“What happened?” the guy asked. “Did you get out of the business?”
“Uhhh ...,” I muttered, searching for a comeback, “I’ve been out of the country.”
Moral of the story and advice to budding TV journalists: Never get too full of yourself, no matter how short or how long your career lasts.
And one more thing. Since I can’t completely hang up my spurs, I’ll return in six months as a part-timer. Having a backstage pass to history is a lifelong addiction, I fear.
George Lewis on assignment in Vietnam during the early days of his career.