Marilyn Berger said she still feels the void left when her husband, “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt, died from pancreatic cancer last August.
“What I miss is waking up each morning to a man with 100 ideas,” said Berger, 74, in a phone interview from her Manhattan home. “He was a man who had a huge zest for life.”
After his death, the Manhattan affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, an El Segundo, California-based nonprofit that raises money for research, contacted Berger about making Hewitt the honoree at tonight’s third annual “Cookin’ Up a Cure” fundraiser at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Last year, the gourmet food and cocktail tasting raised $150,000. The menu includes pate from Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud, Peking duck served up by Aureole executive chef Christopher Lee, foie gras and duck dumplings from David Burke Townhouse, and Kona crusted sirloin from Capital Grille chef Jason Miller.
The benefit includes a silent and live auction of experiences ranging from a lunch for five with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger to a plane ride to the Hamptons in Long Island, New York, for lunch.
“Don would have wanted me and my family to help other people avoid this terrible disease,” Berger said. “I want people to go home with an awareness of the disease. It’s not something that you can detect early. It’s deadly and swift- moving.”
Pancreatic cancer takes the life of 66 percent of its victims within the first year of diagnosis and 95 percent within five years, the Pancreatic Action Cancer Network says on its website. Hewitt died five months after his physician found a tumor on his pancreas, Berger said.
In more than 50 years with CBS News, Hewitt helped shape the careers of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Douglas Edwards. In “60 Minutes,” he created a pioneering format that became one of the longest-running news programs in broadcast history. After overseeing it for 35 years, Hewitt left at age 82 in 2004.
Mike Wallace, one of the program’s original correspondents, introduced Berger, a diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post (1970-76) and a White House and Pentagon reporter for NBC News (1976-78), to Hewitt. The couple married in 1979. Berger has written for the New York Times since 1985.
Hewitt and Berger provided financial support for an abandoned Ethiopian child named Danny who had spinal tuberculosis that left his back deformed. The boy received a U.S. visa and came to live with the Hewitts while attending school in Manhattan. Berger says his presence has helped ease the loss of her husband.
Berger tells the story about Danny’s journey to the U.S. and the doctor who performed the life-saving surgery on him in “This Is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes” (William Morrow) published last month.
“Danny became part of our lives and his welfare became extremely important to us,” Berger said about the 8-year-old who attends the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. “As Don’s life ebbed, this child’s zest for life filled the household. In some ways, he’s like Don, he fills the room.”
“Cookin’ Up a Cure” is tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, 60th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Tickets are $125 and must be purchased in advance at http://www.pancan.org/cookinupacure