NEW YORK (AP) — The final glimpse of Charles Gibson found him at his “ABC World News” anchor desk, surrounded by dozens of applauding co-workers. He applauded back.
Signing off from the network’s flagship newscast Friday, Gibson brought to a close 34 years at ABC. He called the job he’s leaving “a labor of love.”
“It’s hard to walk away from what I honestly think is the best job in the world,” he said in brief farewell remarks. “But my parents taught me you should understay, not overstay, your welcome.
“And there is so much to do. In the years I have left, I don’t want to miss any of it.”
The 66-year-old Gibson, who has anchored “World News” since 2006, announced his intention to retire several months ago.
“I hope you’ve had a good day,” he said in one last refrain of his signature signoff, his voice quavering. “I’ve had so many good days here.”
On tape, luminaries paid him tribute and wished him well. They included President Barack Obama as well as former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Singers Sting and Julie Andrews sang his praises, and comic actors Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin sang a few bars of “Happy Trails to You.”
Even fellow TV journalists Brian Williams and Katie Couric, his evening-news rivals on NBC and CBS, plus Kermit, the Muppet “news frog,” weighed in warmly.
On Monday, Diane Sawyer, the ABC colleague Gibson cited as “my pal,” will take over anchor duties at “World News” in what is unfolding as a low-key transition. That seems in keeping with Gibson’s reassuring, non-flashy style.
Considered one way, Gibson’s career in TV news seems to have been a model of stability: 34 years logged with one network, where he did his job well and rose to the top of his profession.
On the other hand, he bows out as more than an admired network news star. Gibson has long proven himself a utility player, game to handle a range of positions and scramble to the rescue when needed.
It was in 1975 that Gibson joined ABC News, where he was named White House correspondent a year later. After numerous other assignments, he began a lengthy stretch as co-anchor of “Good Morning America” in 1987, then left in 1998 to serve as a co-anchor of the “Primetime Thursday” newsmagazine for six years.
This might seem like a steady-as-he-goes career climb. But in 1999, less than a year after exiting “GMA” for prime-time prominence, Gibson was summoned back for supplementary service in the morning-show trenches. He and Sawyer (a morning-TV veteran from her days at CBS) were good soldiers and resumed setting their alarm clocks for the middle of the night.
Their mandate: to stanch the ratings hemorrhage at “GMA” during Gibson’s brief time away. The chemistry between them worked, and what was conceived as stopgap triage continued for more than seven years.
Then Gibson announced his departure for a second time.
Demonstrating his versatility that final week on “GMA,” he reported on terrorists and politicians. He also furnished his audience with another kind of news flash: You can potty train your toddler in just 24 hours (or so claimed his on-camera interviewee, who had written a book on the subject).
But Gibson was already involved in another mission for ABC News.
A year earlier, in 2005, “World News” anchor Peter Jennings had died from lung cancer. Then, early in 2006, Jennings’ co-successors were both forced to give up their roles at the anchor desk: Bob Woodruff was gravely injured on assignment in Iraq, and Elizabeth Vargas became pregnant.
Again, the network turned to Gibson. For several weeks, he even did double duty. There he was, at the crack of dawn on “GMA,” then at dinner time on “World News.”
By July 2006, he was finally free to concentrate on “World News” while serving, at last, as the face of ABC News.
Since then, he has led “World News” in its spirited battle with the customary ratings champ, “NBC Nightly News,” and third-place “CBS Evening News.”
It is this high office that Gibson is vacating. Maybe Julie Andrews was correct in her taped tribute when she said news anchors “never retire, they just take a long commercial break.”
But in Gibson’s well-earned break from journalism’s daily scramble, he presumably will still be hoping viewers tuned to “World News” have “had a good day.”