Over the phone, his voice is warm, reassuring, avuncular. Dan Rather, the longtime CBS anchorman who now leads the "News and Guts" digital journalism site, speaks in crisp, firm tones.
Yet it is easy to detect his Texas roots — and his current, part-time Austin-area residence — especially when he talks about the state he so clearly identifies with and loves so much.
On social media, especially his "News and Guts" posts on Facebook and Twitter, Rather has become known for widely shared bursts of moral insight for turbulent times.
In this occasional series, "What We Need to Hear," we ask people to share what’s helping them during the coronavirus pandemic. Here is what Dan Rather told us:
I’m not sure I’m the guy to go to for advice on anything. But I will try to be helpful.
I’ve been blessed to live a long life. I’ve never gone through anything like this. And neither has anyone else.
I was born at the height of the Great Depression in 1931. Desperate families knocked on our back door for food.
I remember when World War II started with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the first months of war, there was a very real prospect we might lose it, that the Germans and Japanese would soon be rolling across America.
At 12, I contracted rheumatic fever, which, while not as bad as polio, is very bad. I was bedridden for the better part of two years. And I know that plenty of other people have gone through even tougher times.
First, live in the present. My mother had a saying: "About yesterday, no tears, about tomorrow, no fears." I’ve repeated that from time to time.
The words "steady" and "courage" have had a lot of meaning to me. They were two of my father’s favorite words. When I was bedridden, he’d put his hand on me and say, "Steady. Courage."
» CORONAVIRUS IN TEXAS: All our ongoing coverage, which is free
Courage is being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway. Sometimes saying mentally the word "steady" or "courage" over a long period has helped me when I was afraid.
I don’t want to preach to anybody, but I believe in the power of prayer. It’s been my experience that for people who face dangerous things, whether they are faithful or not, prayer is meaningful. It’s being able to center.
Prayer is saying, "Let me focus."
Fear seeks to make you dysfunctional. In the struggle with it, focus on one thing: a mother’s face, a child’s face, a piece of art, or a piece of music. Being able to focus your mind on some one thing in the moment of greatest danger or fear is helpful.
The poem "Invictus" (by William Ernest Henley) was very helpful to me when I had rheumatic fever, afraid of being crippled for life, or of losing my life. It was very useful in steadying myself.
If not "Invictus," pick a poem of your own. John McCain, when he was in prison in North Vietnam, said the poem helped him get through the experience. Robert Kennedy said it was helpful right after his brother was assassinated.
That poem speaks to me, and it helped settle me down several times. To steel your will at the moments when you need it the most.
I interviewed Nelson Mandela in South Africa after he was released from prison after 27 years; he was another one who said it helped him get through it all.
You know, I wish I was back in Texas. Jean, my wife, is in Texas. I’m in New York City with our grandson.
Being here now, it took me the longest time to realize that it’s spring in Texas, and that the wildflowers are out, one of the greatest joys in life.
A good deal of time at this time of year, too, as a family we’d talk about Texas history. About what I call the "Texas High Holy Days," remembering the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto and so forth.
This is our first year not reminiscing. Maybe we’ll get to it next year.
"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.