"Tim was a great dad," the late newsman's sister tells PEOPLE

By Diane Herbst
Updated June 15, 2008 01:30 PM
Tim Russert
Credit: UPI/Landov

The plans were set. Sunday morning, Father’s Day, Tim Russert would finish taping his NBC show Meet the Press and fly from Washington, D.C., to his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

His sister Kathy Russert-Hughes, 52, would pick Tim up and the pair would spend the day with their dad, Timothy J. Russert, Sr., fondly known as Big Russ. “We were going to take him out to eat, drive around, whatever he wanted to do,” Kathy tells PEOPLE. “We were going to spend the time with my dad.”

Timmy, as she called him (and he called her Kiki), always spent Father’s Day with Big Russ, to whom he paid tribute in his 2004 memoir Big Russ & Me. He would either fly to Buffalo or fly Big Russ down to Washington, D.C.

“His family was the most important thing in the world,” says Kathy. “And he always had time for family.” She declined to elaborate on how Big Russ is doing after the sudden death of his son from a heart attack on June 13 except to say: “My dad is doing fine.”

“Timmy Loved Life, He Loved People”

Kathy and Tim had recently struggled with the painful decision of helping Big Russ move from his small, neat Buffalo home with the NBC peacock on the front door into an assisted living facility on June 6. “It was very difficult,” she says. “It weighed heavy on Tim.”

Kathy last spoke to Tim on Thursday. “He was checking on my dad,” she says, noting that Tim spoke to Big Russ at least every other morning, sometimes once a day. “Timmy loved life, he loved people,” she says. “I was very proud to be his sister, it’s such a tremendous loss.”

When asked what she will miss most about Tim, Kathy begins to cry. “He was always there for me,” she says. “No matter how busy he was he would always take our calls or call us – family is number one.”

Luke, Russert’s son, had been spending time with Tim on a family vacation in Italy, and would still have been overseas on Father’s Day. Kathy hasn’t yet spoken to Luke, a recent graduate of Boston College.

“Tim was a great dad, they were the closest a father could be to a son, a bond as strong as I’ve ever seen,” she says. “The love was unimaginable from the day he was born.”