As women accuse Matt Lauer of sexual misconduct, some people who worked closely with him during his 25 years at NBC are stunned about allegations that contradict their own interactions with the once venerated anchor.
“We are all heartbroken and sickened,” a Today show source tells PEOPLE.
The source called Lauer, 59, “the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known,” adding, “What people are alleging is totally out of character.”
NBC announced early Wednesday that Lauer had been fired after the network received a “detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior” on Monday, with reason to believe “this may not have been an isolated incident.” A source told PEOPLE that Lauer was let go due to sexual misconduct throughout 2014, including at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (A second source with knowledge of the situation says Lauer had viewed this relationship as “consensual” and was “dumbfounded” by the Monday accusation.)
In a report by Variety, three anonymous women accused the former newsman of sexual harassment, claiming the father of three had once brought a female employee into this office “and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis.” And a former NBC employee told The New York Times that Lauer sexually assaulted her in 2001.
In a statement released Thursday morning, Lauer said, “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.”
But people who worked with him are still quick to defend the anchor.
“People truly don’t know exactly what this was. I can’t even describe how beloved he is at the show,” the Today source says. “He is so kind and respectful. In 20 years, I’ve never hear him raise his voice ever. He never gets angry. He is always a voice of reason and so kind to everyone and funny. When you see him coming down the hallway, everyone lights up because they’re so happy to see him, because you know he’ll have something fun to say or a funny joke. He always does the right thing. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I always tried to hold myself up to the standards of the type of person he was. He treated me like a daughter. I was there at all levels, and he has treated me with the same respect and generosity every day and every moment. In 20 years, I’ve never seen a single instance of him being anything less than a respectful wonderful colleague.”
The source also said despite Lauer’s multiple extramarital affairs, which other sources previously described to PEOPLE, the anchor was outwardly professional — and his colleagues did not inquire about any reports of alleged infidelity.
Lauer has been married to Dutch model Annette Roque for 19 years, and they share three children: son Jack, 16, daughter Romy, 14, and son Thijs, 11. Sources at the office say he was proud of his family.
“He loved and adored his children and his wife. He talked a lot about when he would retire and the time he wanted to spend with his family. He’s a real family man. This whole thing is a big mystery,” the source says. “He would brag about his kids. He adored his kids. His plan was always to spend more time with his family. That’s all he wanted to do.”
Lauer retreated to the family’s home in the Hamptons after his termination, and a network producer tells PEOPLE that it “was known throughout the industry” that he and Roque, 50, have been leading separate lives for a while.
(In 2010, the couple slammed a report that said they had split and Lauer had moved out of their home as “a work of fiction” and called rumors of cheating “ridiculous.”)
“She lived in the Hamptons and he lived in the city. You never saw her. I never heard anything about her,” the producer says, adding, “I think he was used to having a lot of affairs and and getting what he wanted. He was supposed to project this family image, but this was not what was going on. He was essentially a single guy.”
Still, that insider says, “People are completely shocked …. devastated and just can’t believe it. Even though this has all been percolating for a long time, no one believed it would come in this way.”
Adds a former Today staffer: “It was an open secret that Matt and his wife had an unconventional relationship among the staff, but the harassment stuff was surprising. In all the years I worked with him, I never saw behavior like that or heard any reports like that.”
“I thought he was a good father,” she adds. “Again, I wouldn’t have wanted that marriage myself, but I’m not judging it. He walked a lot about his kids behind the scenes, like doing the March Madness bracket with his son. He worked a lot, so he was away from them a lot. We knew that, because he lived so far away and was in the office so often, that he wasn’t around them as often as say, Carson [Daly]. But he put time in. He’d FaceTime and would bring them to the office when appropriate, like Bring Your Kids to Work Day.”