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Mike Wallace showed softer side during visits to native Brookline

The Boston Globe

A Brookline High yearbook page listed Mike Wallace, who graduated in 1935. Wallace often gave talks at his alma mater.

Mike Wallace’s half-century-long career took him around the world and into the minds of the 20th century’s most newsworthy figures.

But it all began in Brookline.

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A 1935 graduate of Brookline High School, Mr. Wallace returned to his hometown and alma mater many times over the years, often to give talks or accept plaudits.

Smoki Bacon, the Boston philanthropist and socialite who helped orchestrate a sesquicentennial celebration for the school, remembers feting the newsman, who quickly engaged with the students in the audience.

“He was a delight,’’ recalled Bacon, who graduated in 1945, 10 years after Mr. Wallace. She said that in person, the veteran interviewer showed little of the aggressive style that became his hallmark. “He was a pussycat,’’ Bacon said.

When Mr. Wallace attended, Brookline was known as the best high school in the country, Bacon said, adding that it drew many families who could barely afford the neighborhood but sought the best for their children.

“The high school had been very good to him,’’ Bacon said. “He felt very strongly about it, about the fact that he was lucky enough to go to a school that nurtured his intelligence and brought him along.’’

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In particular, Mr. Wallace recalled a particular English teacher: Biddy Graham, who taught him grammar at the John D. Runkle School. “It never left me,’’ Mr. Wallace said of those lessons, in “Voices of Brookline’’, a 2005 history of the town.

Author Larry Ruttman said he interviewed Mr. Wallace a handful of times for the book and remembered him as outgoing and energetic.

The two met when Mr. Wallace visited the school to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2002, and the veteran newsman - then 84 - agreed to the interview, despite a bad cold.

“He showed a lot of kindness to keep the date even though he was sick,’’ Ruttman said.

When the interview concluded, Ruttman said that Mr. Wallace surprised him by not only expressing gratitude to Ruttman, but extending the sentiment to the amateur camera operators.

“He said, ‘I want to thank you, and you and you,’ and looked up at people who weren’t on camera - my crew. I thought it was a courtesy from someone who was a good guy,’’ Ruttman said.

The hardball interviewing style that Mr. Wallace employed with world leaders was evident in private, but was softened, said US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf, who befriended the journalist when Mr. Wallace married the widow of a mutual friend in 1986.

“He was sharp and he liked to probe, including with his friends,’’ Wolf said.

Mr. Wallace returned often to Martha’s Vineyard to vacation and always looked fondly on his early years in the Bay State, said his stepson, Eames Yates, 54, of New York.

“He always thought it was kind of hilarious that he was from Brookline, and on the same street lived Lenny Bernstein and Jack Kennedy,’’ Yates said. “Those are three pretty good names from a town in Massachusetts.’’

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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