Now I know how it felt when the last dodo died. Morley Safer was the last of his species – the chain-smoking, war-hardened journalist who had seen it all, but couldn't wait to see more.
He was the last of the 60 Minutes correspondents who covered the Vietnam War, but Morley did more than cover it.
He owned that story, breaking some of the most important stories of the era, including the war crimes at Cam Ne committed by U.S. Marines in 1965.
By the time I knew him, Morley had moved past his war correspondent days. He dressed like an English dandy, smoked like a French philosopher, but still had the voice of a refined Canadian, articulating his beautiful words in a sound booth as he poked his hand at the double-paned sound proof glass to emphasize his points.
When I started as a producer at 60 Minutes in 1999, I was assigned to work with Morley, and was led into his office, where I found him behind his desk, sitting beside his trademark Royal manual typewriter, which I assumed was a prop or some memento of his early days. I soon found out differently, when I delivered a draft script to him, laid out neatly on a sheet printed off a computer, and Morley grabbed a blank piece of paper, curled it into his typewriter and started plunking away with his own version of the narration.
That Royal was like a magic machine that transformed cogent ideas into poetry. Even when he was reporting from the battlefields of Vietnam, he had a way with words, and by the time he was working for America's premier news magazine, his voice was unleashed. Unlike so many well-trained reporters, Morley was not economical with his words, but somehow, every word he spoke had meaning.
While his early career was focused on hard news and war, Morley grew into a thoughtful elder statesman of television broadcasting, reporting on ideas as often as corruption. He approached stories everywhere like a "foreign correspondent," even those in his own backyard.
When we investigated the Pentagon or the FBI, he came to the stories with a certain dispassion that some of his colleagues, including his good friend and bitter rival Mike Wallace, did not have.
Perhaps that was because Morley was an outsider, a Canadian hiding in the American crowd. He once told Maclean's magazine that he feels stateless.
"I am not American, whatever that is. I cannot say 'we' in the collective national sense." That outsider's sense, he said, helps him because "I bring a different perspective, and I have no vested interests."
Last week, Morley retired from 60 Minutes, and may have set the record for the shortest, saddest retirement in journalism history.
But he lived what seemed like a well-rounded life: baking, painting, driving fancy cars, playing pétanque, all of this interspersed between reporting trips all over the world.
Any chapter of his career would be enviable to any young reporter today.
His half-century of stellar reporting made him a vestige of a bygone era – and an icon with a career that would be nearly impossible to emulate.
Peter Klein, a former 60 Minutes producer, is director of the Global Reporting Centre at the University of British Columbia.