Actress Susan Saint James is the wife of Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and NBC Olympics. Ebersol was seriously injured when his plane crashed in Colorado over Thanksgiving weekend. Susan and Dick's youngest child, 14-year-old Teddy, died in that crash along with two crew members. NBC’s Tim Russert talked with Saint James about the accident and the support she’s received since the tragedy in this “Today” show exclusive.
Tim Russert: First, our deepest sympathy from your NBC family on the tragedy and particularly the loss of baby Teddy.
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Susan Saint James: Thanks.
Russert: You're sitting here today in this terrible moment of crisis for your family because you want to talk to the American people. Why?
Saint James: It's really important to say thank you because we've been reached by all these people. It's, I mean, how can I ever say thank you? If you know anybody that loses somebody, call them on the phone. People always say, "I know you don't want to be bothered." You can't be bothered enough. It's just fantastic, and I just want them to know that.
Russert: I've had the opportunity to read some of the things that Teddy wrote. “The meaning of love can be described in just one word: family.”
Saint James: I know.
Russert: Tell me about Teddy.
Saint James: Teddy was funny. The youngest one … he's just there, you know? And we had such a big family. We have five children. Teddy was kind of like — Teddy, come on, Teddy. Hurry up, Teddy. Quietly he developed this way of thinking that you would never know about, except the school he went to makes them write an autobiography. And so he wrote this autobiography. At the time … we read it [we] found out things we didn't know about Teddy and how much we all meant to him as a family — one quote said something about, “On the road of life, the only person ahead of the love of your family is God.”
Russert: He described you as his best friend in the whole wide world.
Saint James: Yeah. I'm his best friend in the whole wide world for sure. Because we were the two left behind — because they all went off to college now, and Dick is so busy. So we were like buddies. We had our routine. He couldn't watch TV during the week, so we got TiVo, and then we'd pick our show and then that's what we'd watch. I had to listen to some pretty bad music and — some good stuff, too, though. But we just were … were like roommates.
Russert: He looked just like you.
Saint James: He looked exactly like me and he was getting taller.
Russert: You're wearing the Boston Red Sox hat.
Saint James: I wish I could say it was his. But his whole collection was with him. The whole collection of his hats was with them on the plane.
Russert: How much did the Red Sox winning the series mean to Teddy?
Saint James: He started school at a new school in September and we live in a place in Connecticut that is half Yankees, half Red Sox — very tough debates and he took a lot of grief. [When] he won the World Series it was like — it doesn't get any better than that. And think of all the youngsters and oldsters that died … [Laughter]
Russert: Never saw...
Saint James: …the World Series. So he lucked out big time.
Russert: One of the remarkable things that Teddy wrote is that the finish line is only the beginning of a whole new race.
Saint James: He was so sad to leave his eighth grade. You know, it was such a great class. He'd been there all of his life … it was Montessori [and] very cozy. He went there from preschool. That was his way of dealing with that. That's what I'm going to put on his stone.I look at it this way, Tim: For Ted, it's like when you go to the movies and there's 10 of you and it's really [crowded], you get ahead in line but you want stuff to eat. So you send one poor schlub in to save all nine seats [and] you give him nine coats. It's really the crap job, you know? You really don't want that job.
Of course, Ted had to have that job. But I look at it like that's his job. He's up there and he's saving us seats. I have to use that metaphor because … it's too sad.
Russert: But it's very spiritual of Teddy. To have a sense that his life is not — complete but he's beginning a whole new race.
Saint James: Yes, and he was complete. So often people die and people say, well, their pain and suffering is over, they found relief or maybe he found some peace. Teddy had found peace. He found peace on Earth. He was one happy guy.I wanted to say, too, Tim, there were three other people in this airplane besides my family. There was the captain of the plane who passed away … his name was Luis Polanco. He had a wife and three kids. The steward was a kid named Warren T. Richardson. I just remember his name because he was hysterical. He was such a lovely, lovely guy. And this fellow captain, Eric Wicksell, who's fighting for his life. This guy is a symbol of what really happened on that airplane. It was a horrible, horrible crash that went into flames, and I'm hoping he survives for his family.
Russert: How are Dick and Charlie doing?
Saint James: Dick, because he has a cracked sternum, it's the same where you'd feel if you had open heart surgery ... [it’s hard for him] to cough [and] to sob. So it's all very inside. But he's so proud of Charlie because Charlie just dragged him out of the plane. He lifted up the microwave and the whole kitchen unit and dragged him out of the hole. There was no door. There was a hole. So he's still probably in shock a lot, and he takes a lot of blood thinners and he's on all kinds of medications.
Charlie goes from, you know, “Don't let them call me a hero. I'm not a hero. I didn't save my brother. I wish I could have saved my brother.” But when they found Teddy he was under the plane and he was wearing his seatbelt.
Russert: And yet here's Charlie, 21 years old, and in a moment, in a nanosecond he, rather than running from the wreckage, went back in the plane and saved his dad's life. As a mom, that has to make you so filled with pride and love.
Saint James: He not only did that, he lifted this thing up and took his dad out, came back in as it started to burn. This thing was a crisp 10 minutes later. He lifted things up to look for Teddy and then ran around the plane looking for Teddy. But he got on his cell phone and called me, we were leaving and we were halfway up the mountain, and said, “Mom, there's been a crash. You've gotta come back and help me look for Teddy.”" The whole thing is just…
Russert: After the crash, Charlie called you on his phone?
Saint James: Yeah. He goes, “Mom, we got [in a] crash [on] the plane.” Then I called the airport. They go, “Crash? We haven't had a crash. I'm sorry. We can't give out any information.” I said, “Well, I hope you're doing something about it because it's right at the end of your runway.” It was before they had even known because it was very foggy.
If Charlie had been unconscious they'd all be dead because there was no saving anybody. But because he was conscious, he went and moved the sink, grabbed Dick, took him out of the hole and then went back in and then saw the flames beginning. I mean, he was obviously smart enough. He said anyway there was no Teddy in that plane.
Russert: What have Dick and Charlie told you about the crash? Do they remember anything?
Saint James: Charlie remembers everything … every single thing: They started to lift and tipped to the right, then the pilot tried to straighten out and tipped to the left and then to the right. Charlie said he saw the front just get compressed like that and they ended up outside — they were all out on the snow. Somebody came and found Mr. Wicksell — he was still alive.
Russert: Does Dick remember anything?
Saint James: No. He remembers not being able to look over for Teddy because something was on top of him. But now it turns out Charlie told him he was on his face anyway and the thing was on his back, so there was no looking over. Charlie remembers Teddy saying, “You know, I'm really scared.” But I think it was really fast. I think these things seem slow. But I think they're really fast.
Russert: Matter of seconds.As you look back over these last five or six days, what comes to mind?
Saint James: Well, you know, I had to deal with the why this one, not that one, and then I just have to say that it's all … somebody told me once that God's will is what happened yesterday. I don't believe that God's going, "Oh, Susan's things are going really good there. I think I'll go and tweak that a little bit."It's just not like that. It's just a big world that's been set in a free=will situation. It's how we react and how we go on that. I have a right and my kids have the right to just be really sad. But we're not mad-sad. I'm not mad … I just want to move forward.I tell my kids, “Having resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other guy dies.” Having resentments now, it's just gonna kill us.
So we're just really happy to have each other. And Dick said, “Oh, it should be me. I've lived my life and Teddy didn't live his life.”
Russert: I have a clear sense that if someone came to you and said, “Susan, this is the grand design. We will give you young Teddy for 14 years and then bring him home,” you'd say…
Saint James: Definitely. Oh, for sure. I'd take him in a minute. Teddy used to say, you know, “I ruined my mom's career because after I was born she retired,” and I said, "You know, Teddy, they don't let you retire. They still put ‘actress Susan Saint James.’ ” It's so dumb because I, you know, I haven't done that in … well, Teddy's 14, I stopped when I got pregnant with him.
Russert: It's “mother Susan Saint James.”
Saint James: It's “mom” because that was the most fun of all. I got to be with him all the time. I didn't work at all with Teddy … I was there the whole entire time.
Russert: Susan Saint James, we thank you for your strength and dignity.We give you our best during these difficult times.
Saint James: Thanks to everybody. We'll read everything [because] I don't have anything else to do with Ted gone. So I'll be reading every single thing anybody sent me.
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