By Tommy Thomason
“We are all living longer now,” the 79-year-old newsman said. “We are in better shape physically, we eat better, and most people are really trying to live healthy. We need to exercise not only our bodies, but also our minds — and working can be an important part of that.”
Schieffer’s career is an example of his commitment to staying active at work and at home. When he first considered retiring at age 67 in 2004, he was already one of the nation’s best-known and most-honored journalists. But Schieffer delayed his retirement when CBS convinced him to stay on through the 2004 elections.
That delay continued through three more presidential elections and ended up giving Schieffer the most productive years of his half-century in journalism.
Last year, Schieffer surprised an audience at his alma mater, Texas Christian University, by announcing that he was ending a career that had made him one of the most recognized faces and voices in TV journalism.
His retirement lasted about six months.
Schieffer is now appearing again on CBS as an election analyst. But he doesn’t keep regular office hours, so the Fort Worth native still says he’s retired, though you might not be able to tell it from his schedule.
“I told someone I was pretty lucky,” Schieffer said, “because I don’t have to get up so early on Sunday mornings.”
Schieffer rose at 4:30 a.m. on Sundays for 24 years to moderate Face the Nation, one of the longest-running news programs in the history of television. When he retired, Face the Nation had been the highest-rated Sunday talk show for four consecutive years.
Making Face the Nation the top Sunday morning talk show was only one of Schieffer’s accomplishments in the 11 years of his career that came after he first considered retiring.
“Lots of the things I am best known for happened after an age when most people retire,” he said.
Those post-retirement age achievements have included:
- Being named interim anchor for the CBS Evening News after Dan Rather’s ouster and reversing the news broadcast’s ratings decline.
- Writing three books on his life and career in journalism.
- Winning numerous awards, including induction into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame and being named a living legend by the Library of Congress. And that’s only the beginning: Schieffer won several of his Emmys — along with awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Cronkite School of Journalism and the TV News Directors Association — after his 67th
- TCU’s naming of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication for him in 2013.
- Moderating three presidential debates – Bush-Kerry in 2004, Obama-McCain in 2008 and Obama-Romney in 2012.
And now, in retirement, Schieffer has lots of keep him busy besides his work as an election analyst with the network. He travels back to Fort Worth each semester to work with journalism undergraduates at TCU, and he also lectures at Harvard in the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Plus there’s travel for speaking engagements and for pleasure with his wife of 49 years, Pat.
“Pat and I have a great partnership,” he said. “I certainly would not have gone this far without her. When I was traveling so much for CBS, she basically raised our kids.”
Pat wasn’t exactly looking forward to having Bob hanging around the house all day after retirement.
“I think she actually wants me at home less,” he laughs. “When I decided to retire, she said, “’You’re not going to be around here all day, are you?’”
The Schieffers have two daughters and three granddaughters – identical 15-year-old twins and an 11-year-old. And making time for them is definitely a priority in Bob and Pat’s still-busy schedule.
To unwind, Schieffer engages in a hobby that he first began developing when he sat on his grandmother’s porch outside of Austin and drew the cows grazing in nearby fields – he’s an inveterate sketcher. He has drawn on pads in meetings and even now while he’s watching TV.
But when he was in New York anchoring the CBS Morning News in 1979, he walked down the street from his studio one morning to check out the renowned Art Students League and ended up taking a life drawing class.
“I pretty much went there full-time for two years,” Schieffer remembers.
He’s now a painter who works mainly in acrylics (“I did oils for a long time, but if you spill oils it’s permanent”) in his studio, which doubles as a laundry room in his home in Washington, D.C.
He also does a lot of work with colored pencils now because he’s on the road so much and they are easy to pack and take along.
And one reason Schieffer is sometimes on the road has nothing to do with politics or guest lecturing before journalism groups or universities – he is also the featured soloist for Honky Tonk Confidential, a retro/alt country band. Bob has called his gigs with the band “the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”
Schieffer, a singer-songwriter, has performed with Honky Tonk Confidential in venues from the Waldorf Astoria to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
His signature tune, which he wrote and performs with the band, is “TV Anchorman,” about a gas station attendant who is vaulted onto “Eyewitness News” after a highly paid consultant spots him pumping gas at Stuckey’s.
Schieffer’s fans include Brad Paisley, who performed with him at the Grand Ole Opry. When Bob retired from CBS last year, Paisley tweeted that for his next career, Bob should try being a country singer/songwriter.
Schieffer thinks retirement is not so much the time to develop new interests as it is to develop the interests you already have.
“You have more time to do the things you were already doing,” he explained, “and maybe even to get better at them.”
Anyone looking at Schieffer’s post-retirement schedule might dispute the fact that he has “more time,” but only if they weren’t aware of his schedule as a broadcast journalist and Face the Nation host. Now, his days still include regular TV appearances, but he looks forward to travel with Pat, singing, painting and enjoying his grandchildren.
In other words, Schieffer’s retirement isn’t a time for leisure – it’s just a different kind of busy.
Tommy Thomason is a professor of journalism at TCU and director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism.