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Charles Kuralt's other life Scandal: The late CBS newsman had a wife in New York and, secretly, a longtime companion in Montana. The two have now met, in court.

June 01, 1998|By Paige Williams | Paige Williams,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

From the start, Charles Kuralt impressed the Baker children as a kind man who was genuinely interested in their lives and future.

He gave J.R. his first baseball glove, taught him how to sail. When J.R. had trouble getting into college, Charles sent him to a preparatory school in Arizona, where one of Cronkite's children had gone.

When he thought J.R. should see a bit of the world he took him on the road with his camera crew, and once got him an internship at CBS.

He paid for Kathleen to go to law school at the University of San Francisco; when she graduated, Charles was there. He helped send J.R. to grad school; when he graduated, Charles was there. He gave them job references and advice and very often, a little walking-around money, even when they didn't ask for it.

He never failed to send birthday cards and Valentines. He wrote letters a good father would write: Don't rush into a job you hate ... Let's catch some fish this summer ... I'm proud of you ... I love you. He began signing his letters, "Pop."

'Too much invested'

"Now Ms. Shannon," the attorney continued, "was there a time during this period that you attempted to break off and pursue an independent life?"

"Well, we -- our lives became increasingly scattered, I guess you would say. Charles was no longer on the road. He was living with Mrs. Kuralt in New York City. ... Charles had not gotten a divorce and I was becoming more and more unhappy about it. ... Charles said he thought we had too much invested to just toss it aside and was eager, as I generally was, too, to have reconciliations."

Pulling back

In 1994, Kuralt retired from CBS, and letters of sadness poured in from all over the country, more than 1,000 a day. He asked Pat to join him in Key West, Fla. She still hoped Charles would leave Petie, so she went, but once there, she realized again nothing ever would change. When Charles invited her to Charleston a month later, Pat said no. When he asked her to meet him at the cabin, she said no.

That September, he turned 60 in Montana.

The next October, in 1995, he had heart bypass surgery.

By summer 1997, Pat had been deeded the cabin and 20 acres. Charles wanted to deed over the rest of the land, but Pat says she urged him to wait. They were to meet at the cabin in September and once again try to repair their relationship.

Charles hadn't been feeling well. His doctors ran tests. On June 18, he wrote to Pat from the hospital: "Something is terribly wrong with me." He enclosed two checks, one for $9,000 and zTC

one for $8,000.

Days later, when she received the letter in Ireland, Pat frantically called J.R., who called the hospital, which would tell him nothing. J.R. called Charles' apartment in New York as he often did, and as he left a message on the answering machine, Petie Kuralt picked up the phone.

For all she knew, J.R. thought, this was just another friend calling to check on Charles.

His heart was the trouble, and lupus. But he seemed to be getting better, Petie said.

J.R. called his mother and told her not to come to New York.

On July 3, J.R. called Charles.

Pat was anxious to speak to him, he said.

No, said Charles; he would be home soon and would call her then.

The next day, he died.

They buried him between a crape myrtle and a dogwood tree in Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, his mahogany casket covered in red roses.

More than 1,600 people had come to the memorial service to say goodbye, the famous and the unknown, among them Patricia Shannon.

At one point that day, she showed Charles Kuralt's letter to someone at the funeral, and the secret began to unravel.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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