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Steady, self-effacing Pete Williams of NBC News will be missed

Pete Williams, shown in June 2019, is retiring from NBC News.William B. Plowman/NBC

Some network reporters and anchors try to make themselves the story: preening, emoting, generally showboating.

They badly want to be stars, and it shows. Some of them behave as if the most important thing about any story is their reaction to it.

That was never Pete Williams’s style. The longtime NBC News correspondent brought a refreshingly matter-of-fact approach to his coverage of the Supreme Court and the Justice Department — which are demanding beats in any era, but especially during the eventful years that Williams covered them.

Now, at 70, he is retiring after nearly three decades at the network.

This viewer is going to miss him. Williams neither overplayed stories (“The sky is falling!’’) nor underplayed them (”There’s nothing to see here’'). His on-air demeanor had gravitas without pomposity; he was calm, knowledgeable, obviously deeply sourced, and steady as a rock.


His colleagues evidently benefited from that steadiness as well, to judge by their remarks in a tribute video that aired on Friday’s “Today” show.

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt said: “When you’re anchoring breaking news, the moment they would tell me in my ear that Pete is ready to go, it was like ‘Ah! We’re going to be OK.’’

Added Chuck Todd, host of “Meet the Press”: “Nobody could explain it better, earlier, and faster.’’ Longtime colleague and friend Andrea Mitchell, an NBC News veteran, spoke warmly of Williams as both person and reporter, calling him “the most meticulous, most intelligent journalist on any beat.’’

“What can I say?’’ said “Today” cohost Savannah Guthrie. “Pete Williams is absolutely the gold standard. … When Pete is covering a story, we all hang on his every word.’’

Williams covered a wide range of stories over the years: the Supreme Court’s decision to end the Florida vote counting in the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore; the terrorist attacks on 9/11; the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013; the Court’s decisions to uphold the Affordable Care Act, legalize same-sex marriage, and overturn Roe v. Wade; the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a rare instance when Williams let his emotions show, his voice trembling while reporting that story); the news that Justice Stephen G. Breyer would retire; the death of NBC colleague Tim Russert.


Interviewed live on the “Today” show after the video, Williams was characteristically self-effacing. He called attention not to himself but to the tradition of the NBC News division in which he worked with such distinction.

“I grew up watching David Brinkley and Chet Huntley back when I was growing up in Wyoming,’’ said Williams. “And the thought of being part of this organization for 29 years is just a dream come true. And I’m just so proud.”

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.