Savannah Guthrie is opening up about her relationship with her beloved Uncle Pierce, who had Down syndrome

Credit: Courtesy Savannah Guthrie

On World Down Syndrome Day, communities around the world raise awareness, with loved ones honoring the people in their lives who have the condition.

Today‘s Savannah Guthrie has joined in with a tribute of her own to her late uncle Pierce, who had Down syndrome. Pierce died in the late ’90s, but Guthrie says her experiences with her “beloved” uncle continue to impact her today.

“Pierce reminded me every day what matters in life: goodness, gratitude, enthusiasm, warmth,” she wrote in a personal essay for Today. “He lived to a ripe old age with many friends and admirers. This day is close to my heart because he is close to my heart, and always will be.”

Guthrie wrote that her grandparents were told Pierce, born in 1933, would likely not live into adulthood. Although common practice then was to place individuals with Down syndrome in an institution, Guthrie’s family instead decided to keep the child home, which Guthrie said helped shape her childhood.

Pierce Franklin Long, Jr.Courtesy Savannah Guthrie
Credit: Courtesy Savannah Guthrie

“When I was in high school and college, my grandparents and Pierce came to live with our family. I feel so lucky to have spent those years with him,” Guthrie wrote in the essay. “His nickname for me was ‘Vinny,’ and he had a way of charming everyone around him. When I was a self-absorbed teenager, breezing past him or constantly on the phone, he would call out, ‘oh Vinny, your darling Uncle Pierce is talking to you!’ ”

The NBC anchor also wrote of Pierce’s comforting ways after her father’s sudden death when she was just 16 years old.

“He was sensitive and emotionally wise. When my father died suddenly, our family was shattered,” she recalled. “Sometimes, it was only Pierce’s simple kindness that could soften our grief. ‘I remember Charley,’ he would say. ‘I’ll say a prayer for him.’ ”

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About one in every 700 babies in the country is born with Down syndrome, which occurs when an individual is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 6,000 babies in the U.S. are born with the chromosomal condition each year.

Guthrie has long praised her uncle Pierce, always highlighting his impact on her life.

“I hope people will take the opportunity to get to know those with Down syndrome who are living, working and like my uncle did, flourishing in their families and communities,” she wrote.