Mike Wallace: At this time of his life
The subject is heart surgery.
"I woke up early one morning and had a tough pain up and down my back. 'What the hell is this?' So I said, 'Mary, something's going on and I don't understand it.'"
Mike Wallace is in his Vineyard Haven home overlooking the harbor - a setting that looks like a painter's canvas of summer. Looking thin and a bit fragile, he itemizes the aftermath of the triple bypass surgery he had in January: a loss of mobility, speech, responsiveness, the need for rehabilitation and daily physical therapy.
He talks slowly, shaping his words deliberately between bites of the lunch prepared and served by his daughter, Pauline, who is visiting from Connecticut. His memory, he admits, "is not reliable." And with casual flair, he confesses, "How much of this I'm making up, I'm not absolutely certain."
He merges the telling of his bypass surgery with his fall five years ago, when he slipped on the seaweed-covered rocks of an East Chop jetty and hit his head, suffering hearing and memory loss. The fear of falling again, he says, has him "walking like a cripple."
Mike Wallace became famous for headlining CBS's "60 Minutes" (1968 until 2006), with his groundbreaking, frontal assault style of interviewing. He accompanied United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to Iraq to prevent a war with Saddam Hussein. He received 20 Emmy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement, three duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Peabody Awards, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the international broadcast category.
And yes, were he able, he'd still be doing it. But he knows better.
"You know, at the age of 90 (he was born on May 9, 1918), there are not many people who want to employ you." He recalls when Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was making headlines: "Well, I knew him, I covered him, so I called the [CBS] office. Oh my God, I can just see it on the other end: 'That guy doesn't realize that he's lost a certain amount of usefulness to us.'"
Mr. Wallace is unflinching: "I'm not disappointed in myself. I had my time. I was an object of respect and of celebrity - why do I avoid that word - I wince when I hear it. But things aren't the way they used to be - for anybody."
When his visitor tries to deflect his blunt self-assessment, he dismisses the attempt with the same directness and edge he used when interviewing presidents, history makers, and international luminaries such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat, Noriega, and Putin.
He quips, "Didn't you used to be Mike Wallace?" to explain how former associates react to him.
And now the subject is aging.
"My memory started to go - and it has gone. Self-assurance started to go, and it has." His voice has become the broadcaster's again, emphatic and animated: "You're not as articulate as you used to be. You don't have as good a time as you used to have. In addition to which, age has taken over."
There is no trace of whimper, instead only staunch declaration: "I'm living in the past. Face it. I know that I have a certain reputation, I mean that in the best sense, but I can't achieve that again. I'm not going to get younger. You don't have the psychic energy you used to have. I mean, look at me."
But for all the adjustments, Mr. Wallace says his emotional equilibrium has not been affected. "And not a hint of depression," he says. "You figure, maybe this is going to bring back the old stuff, but not a hint.... If your relationship with your physician is close enough, you just handle it as it comes and goes."
Pauline (the daughter of his third wife, Loraine Perigord) and her husband, Dick Bourgeois, join Mr. Wallace at the dining room table. They've been staying with him while his wife of 22 years, Mary Yates Wallace, was on a trip to Estonia. He beams at them as Pauline talks about how people arrive at each part of their lives, and have to make the appropriate adjustments. She knows that for all of her father's advantages, it doesn't compensate him for not being able to continue doing what he did.
Not that he is complaining. He says his relationships have gotten better; he values his wife ("She's a love") and his children.
"Chris (his son, "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace) and I - you know, we had grown apart to a certain degree, and now we're real pals again, maybe more than ever."
He revels in the Vineyard (raised in Brookline, he first came when he was 10), and in watching the harbor from his back porch. "I can't imagine a more attractive place to be," he says, and then adds, "But let's face it. This is an artificial life."
He is all dignity and resolve as he begins, "So - I think I've lived too long. But I don't feel sorry for myself."
His acceptance, he says, is "absolute."
And when he is asked how he would describe his attitude, he pauses, thinks a moment, then answers: "Waiting. Waiting for the end. It's inevitable. It's not about being comfortable. It's not a question of being passive. You wait to wake up the next morning. You wait to find out what's going to happen. You wait to see what's going to happen to people you love when the wait is over."