CHICAGO -- The 2011 NACS Show drew to a close today, with legendary journalist Tom Brokaw headlining the event's closing session. The veteran news anchor delivered a slew of anecdotes about his life spent covering many of the world's most important moments.
NACS celebrated its 50th anniversary by bringing in a man who has covered the news for the past 50 years. NACS was founded in 1961; Brokaw began his journalism career in 1962.
Early in his NACS Closing General Session speech, Brokaw gave kudos to convenience stores by offering a joke. "I get to talk today to some of my favorite people -- convenience store operators," he said. "I like convenience stores because I'm a one-stop shopper. I spend a lot of time in Montana. When I'm there, I know I can buy a 30 odd 6 [bullets], whiskey, a loaf of bread, a quart of WD-40 oil and a 'Big Slurp' without anyone thinking it's unusual."
The longtime anchor also took time during his speech to pay homage to a man he considered the "dean" of all television anchors, Walter Kronkite.
"He set the standard for all of us," said Brokaw. "I remember when I first took over 'Nightly News' at NBC and Walter told me there were going to be times when big stories were breaking and NBC would be all over it. At the end of the broadcast, everyone in the newsroom was going to come over and pat you on the back and say, 'My God, you just nailed it. That was a real contribution to America understanding about a war that was coming or an economic crisis.' But then you're going to go down the elevator at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and step out into the streets of New York. In New York City alone, there will be millions of people who didn't watch you and could care less about what you just did. That gave me perspective."
After warming up the crowd with humor, Brokaw turned serious, discussing the 5,000 U.S. soldiers and 40,000 wounded soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "These are our fellow citizens, fighting the two longest wars in history," he said. "Less than 1 percent of our population is taking all of the hits. I can guarantee you there are many parents [of soldiers] in our country right now who are looking at their telephone, hoping it will never ring."
The next big step is when soldiers return home from wars they've battled in. "As an industry or an as convenience store owner, I hope you help to train them in this economy to have jobs," Brokaw said. "Reintegration of troops is the next step. It requires the commitment of all of us. "
Millennials are big part of America's future, noted Brokaw. But they are quickly learning that the world is a cruel place as they transition from college students to full-time workers. "They were told the key to the American dream is an education. How many of them have a parent that was let go or furloughed?" he asked. "There are no jobs for them. So they've moved back home. This generation places too much faith in technology. Technology has changed the world, but if there's a problem, people tend to hit the 'delete' button. Also, you don't have a friend. You 'friend' someone. A Tweet will never replace holding hands on a first date. Saying 'I Luv U' in a text is not the same as whispering something in a loved one's ears."
Questions such as reintegrating soldiers and alleviating the unemployment rate make the 2012 presidential election critically important, Brokaw told this morning's audience.
"As a 71-year-old grandfather who has covered the industry's greatest events for the past 50 years, I want make sure this country is strong going all of the way out to the next century. For those who wonder, I have no partisan leanings. I'm an umpire. I call balls and strikes," he said.
"For this generation to make America great, people have to come out their comfort zone. People may have to make personal sacrifices to make their country great. It may require a sacrifice of their time or money. I hope we can all find ways to reenlist as citizens," Brokaw concluded. "So 100 years from now, scientists and historians can look back on the beginning of the 21st century and say, 'They were the greatest generation.'"
Incoming NACS Chairman Tom Robinson, also president of San Jose, Calif.-based Robinson Oil, introduced Brokaw during the Closing General Session. But before he did, he said he was humbled to be named the new NACS chairman.
"NACS, our industry and my company hopefully all have a bright future," Robinson said.
The newly-minted chairman also shared some good news for the c-store industry in regards to the new swipe fee rules that went into effect on Oct. 1. "It's just four days in and we've already seen $7 million in swipe fee savings," he said.
Robinson followed Brokaw's speech by asking the journalist what two events changed our lives. Brokaw quickly responded, September 11 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Brokaw added that the most rewarding relationships he has had that developed from interviews are those with Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Regarding Nancy Reagan, he said she is still very sharp mentally. Brokaw and Reagan go out to lunch together and movie star Warren Beatty often "tags" along.
As for Gorbachev, "We stay in touch," Brokaw said. "He is a great figure in world history who has not yet received his due. When he's in America, I always try to see him."