"I told him, 'I don't know how you do it,' " wife Maureen Orth tells PEOPLE

June 19, 2008 09:00 AM

Leaving their hotel room in Italy ahead of his wife and son to go back to Washington, D.C., so he could tape that Sunday’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert was grabbed by his wife, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue, on sale Friday.

“I said to him, ‘I want to give you a hug; maybe I’ll never see you again,’ ” says journalist Maureen Orth, 65, speaking publicly about her husband for the first time since his June 13 passing – the day after he left Italy. “I don’t know why I said that to him. I just had a feeling.”

Russert was under extra stress at the time of his death: covering this year’s presidential election, flying to Buffalo to visit his widowed father, Tim Sr., 84, in an assisted living facility – which Orth calls “a huge psychological strain for him.”

Then there were his three days in Europe, part of the graduation present for the Russerts’ son, Luke. “It was very hot and humid in Rome,” says Orth. “I was so tired. I told him, ‘I don t know how you do it.’ “

Russert was especially energetic when it came to his son, 22. “When it came to Luke, there was no detail too small,” says Betsy Fischer, executive producer of Meet the Press.

On the morning of the day he died, she recalled, Russert took a chunk of time off from work to go to his son’s new apartment in D.C. and wait for the cable man. “He could have hired someone to do it, but that wasn’t Tim.”

“Family and faith,” Russert’s colleague and friend Tom Brokaw writes in his own words for PEOPLE, “were the foundations of his life.”

For more on Tim Russert – his life, work and his strong faith, as recalled by Maureen Orth, Luke Russert, Tom Brokaw and others – pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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