When Willard Scott and James Rudin met, as second graders in Alexandria, VA, they were unaware that their budding friendship would continue, through thick and thin, for 75 years. Scott, famously, evolved into a beloved television personality, on NBC’s Today Show. Rudin became a rabbi and a public intellectual. Despite professional lives that took them in such disparate directions, their bond only strengthened.
That bond was on prominent display, Tuesday, Feb. 16, at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, when Scott and Rudin joined together for a conversation with one another and 200 or so of their cherished Sanibel friends and neighbors.
A scholar of first rank, Rabbi Rudin is currently the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious advisor. His recently published book, “Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Stephen S. Wise,” has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
But on Tuesday night he shed his scholar’s robes, playing straight-man Abbott to Scott’s freewheeling Costello. Rudin spent much of the evening pitching questions to Scott, who promptly free-associated them out of the park.
Ever the entertainer, Scott darted from an impression of Donald Trump in one moment to a loving one-liner about his father in the next: “My dad was such a Democrat, he voted for McGovern.” Scott’s voluminous fan mail from his radio days, as he told his delighted audience, included a letter that read, “We love you, Willard. Excuse the crayon. They don’t let us have anything sharp in here.”
Much of the evening was spent on recollections of Rudin’s and Scott’s happy childhood together in Alexandria, but in more sober moments, this band of two brothers reminisced about World War II. In particular, the battle of Midway Island came vividly to Scott’s mind.
“It was a turning point in the war. After that battle,” he wryly remarked, “the new Japanese fleet had glass-bottomed boats, so they could see the old Japanese fleet.”
Scott remembers the day that an anti-aircraft gun situated atop the Treasury Building “blew a hole in the Lincoln Memorial.” He also recalled the sudden death, in 1945, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “an awful shock,” he said. “Roosevelt was the only president we knew.”
Islanders Lynda and Charlie Dunham couldn’t resist attending the show. “We used to listen to Willard on the radio in Washington, DC, long before he became famous on The Today Show,” Lynda says. “We still remember him as the first Ronald McDonald, at WRC-TV. Our memories of Willard go way, way back.”
Sally Lund loved every minute of the presentation, describing it as “Willard to the nines.” Lund, a longtime Sanibel resident who, like Rudin and Scott, proudly acknowledges her status as an octogenarian, says that their experiences mirror hers. “They brought back so many memories from my past. Their conversation touched me and made me laugh ‘til I roared.”
After the program, Lund gave Scott a jar of Smucker’s jam, to remind him that the faces of the centenarians he celebrated on The Today Show were displayed for viewers on the front of a Smucker’s jar. “I gave him a jumbo-sized jar. He is so good-natured. He just laughed. I think he really got a kick out of it,” she says.
Attendees Dick and Barbara Schilling pronounced the program a huge success. “It was typical Willard. You never know where his mind will go next,” Barbara says. “He is a perpetual joker, but then something profound will slip from his lips. It was really a wonderful evening.”