Dec. 18, 2009 -- Several hundred of Charlie Gibson's ABC News colleagues, friends and family members packed the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center in New York City Thursday evening to honor the man as he winds down his tenure anchoring "World News" -- and to marvel at the broad sweep of a three-and-a-half-decade career at ABC News.
"The first rough draft of history over this generation has been seen by an entire nation through the eyes of Charlie Gibson," said ABC News President David Westin, who toasted Gibson's leadership role as "an essential glue that has held us all together."
Photos lined the walls -- Gibson cooking with Julia Child, sitting down with President Obama, reporting from the Vatican and anchoring 2008 election night coverage -- all evidence of what the invitation from Westin and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney described as Gibson's "remarkable" career.
The room, filled with lighted candles and flowers, was wall-to-wall with well-wishers, many of whom personally greeted Gibson, 66, and recounted memories from assignments over the years.
Along with the memories, there were a few laughs.
"In sports, we know that when a star player decides to step off the field at the top of his game, the team generally retires his jersey," Sweeney said in a toast. "I think it's a little bit sad that we don't have that kind of ritual in TV news, and I really wish we did so that we could honor Charlie's importance and his contributions to all of us and to journalism. So tonight, Charlie, I am going to respectfully request that you retire your tie."
"I shower in a tie," Gibson quipped.
Gibson's last day helming "World News" is today. He will be succeeded by Diane Sawyer, who will "be in the chair on Monday at 6:30 as our audience would expect," Westin wrote in an e-mail to ABC News staff earlier Thursday.
Sawyer was called away on assignment unexpectedly, but Gibson's former co-anchor on "Good Morning America" called him before the event to offer congratulations on his retirement.
'I Have Loved Every Damn Day'
In his speech, Gibson recounted his transition from being a local reporter in Washington, D.C., to a network news reporter and later a co-anchor of "Good Morning America" and an anchor of "World News."
The passionate baseball fan said, "I lucked into the best team game outside of sports," and thanked his ABC News colleagues for their dedication to excellence in their work.
"You can't forget how important it is what we do," he said. "You get caught up in the competitive aspects, you get caught up on so many ephemeral things and you get worried about this and that, but in the bottom line, the most important thing, overall, is that what we do is important."
"It has been an honor to work with all of you, truly an honor," he added. "I have loved every damn day of it. Thank you."
Dr. Tim: 'OK When Charlie Was at the Helm'
Besides Westin and Sweeney, longtime ABC News medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson and Gibson's adult daughters, Jessica Gibson Rosen and Kate Gibson, also toasted the "World News" anchor.
"We knew things were going to be OK when Charlie was at the helm," Dr. Tim said. "And that's not only because of his incredible intelligence and his great communication skills, but because he does give us a part of himself, he gives us a part of his heart."
"It is time for anchor away at the moment," he added, "but you should know that in our hearts there will always be a permanent and special place for you. And so, we thank you for the memories, and we wish you Godspeed."
Several other Gibson colleagues looked on as he was toasted. Among the guests were Barbara Walters, "Good Morning America" anchors Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos and Juju Chang, "20/20" anchors Elizabeth Vargas and Chris Cuomo, "Nightline" anchors Terry Moran and Cynthia McFadden, and ABC News correspondents including Martha Raddatz, Jake Tapper, Ron Claiborne, Dr. Richard Besser, Dan Harris, Jim Avila, Betsy Stark, Lisa Stark, Bob Woodruff, Stephanie Sy, Andrea Canning and John Quinones.
Daughter Kate Gibson: 'People Love to Talk to Him'
Kate Gibson, the younger of Gibson's two daughters and a producer for CBS News, toasted her father and mentor, and the life lessons he's taught her. Some of the lessons, such as how to listen, humility and the value of hard work, have guided her life.
"Listening is a skill and my father is a master," she said. "and as a result, people love to talk to him."
"I am very proud of my father, and not just for what he has accomplished with his work, which we celebrate tonight," she added. "I am proud of my father the good listener, my father the people person, my father the hard worker and my father who is filled with both humility and courage. If he had just a few of those traits he would be a good man, but he has all of them and he is a great man."
Gibson's older daughter, Jessica Gibson Rosen, said she's waiting to see what he does next.
"This chapter will be another opportunity to learn something new," she said. "I am looking forward to the next chapter. It's going to be exciting. I am sure it will be a smashing success as have been the ones before it."
Gibson thanked his daughters for their support and understanding of his busy schedule throughout his career.
"There have been plays I have missed and recitals I have not been at, and the kids understood that," he said.
He also praised his wife, Arlene, who he described as having "the patience of Job," and said he was forever grateful for her love.
Charlie Gibson: 'Opportune Time for a Transition'
Gibson has anchored what became "World News with Charles Gibson" since May 2006, and previously spent two lengthy stints co-anchoring "Good Morning America."
He assumed the "World News" helm following the death of longtime anchorman Peter Jennings and events that sidelined subsequent co-anchors Elizabeth Vargas and Woodruff, who suffered severe injuries in Iraq.
"It had been my intention to step down from my job at 'Good Morning America' in 2007, but with Peter's illness, Bob's injuries, and Elizabeth's pregnancy, the job at 'World News' came open in May of 2006, and David asked me to step in as anchor," Gibson wrote in an e-mail to staff members in September. "It was an honor to do so."
In that same e-mail, he announced his intention to retire from full-time employment at ABC News and step down from the "World News" anchor chair, feeling it was "an opportune time for a transition."
"It has not been an easy decision to make," Gibson wrote. "This has been my professional home for almost 35 years. And I love this news department, and all who work in it, to the depths of my soul.
"The proudest part for me has been saying '...for all of us at ABC News...,' since those words signify in my mind that I have been in a position to speak for an entire news department that I consider second to none," he added.
In a separate e-mail to the staff at the time of Gibson's announcement, Westin acknowledged Gibson's "leadership" during "a difficult and turbulent time both for ['World News'] and for ABC News overall."
"Having accomplished so much in so many different parts of ABC News, Charlie has decided it is time for him to step down," Westin wrote. "I have told him that he has an open door to continue to work with ABC News, but he's asked for a bit of time before he comes back to us."
This month, Jon Banner, executive producer of "World News with Charles Gibson," revealed that Gibson's last day as "World News" anchorman would be today, Dec. 18.
"We are preparing to see our very good friend and anchor off as he begins a new journey," Banner wrote, as he announced plans for a series of tributes and retrospective segments that have been broadcast on "World News" this week.
In the segments, Gibson has recalled the full sweep of the news and history he has covered for ABC News -- including civic unrest in the streets, interviews with presidents and other pre-eminent politicians and encounters with everyday people he considered heroes.
"It's a pretty great profession that gets you inside the gates," he said this week on "World News."
Gibson: Keep Doing the Job 'in an Objective and Fair Manner'
A native of Evanston, Ill., Gibson grew up in Washington, D.C.
Gibson's career in journalism has spanned at least five decades, even extending back to his time as a student at Princeton University, where he was news director for a college radio station, WPRB-FM.
As part of Thursday's celebration, Westin presented Gibson with a map of the world drawn in 1748. Westin noted the importance of the date -- two years after Princeton was founded, ensuring Princeton was on this historical map. Gibson currently serves as a trustee of Princeton and will work in that capacity until next year.
Gibson's first professional broadcasting job was as Washington producer for RKO Network in 1966.
He came to ABC News in the 1975. Before settling in as co-anchor of "Good Morning America," he worked as a correspondent on "ABC's World News Tonight With Peter Jennings," as an occasional substitute anchor for Ted Koppel on "Nightline," and as substitute anchor on "World News This Morning."
Gibson co-anchored "Good Morning America" from 1987 to 1998 and 1999 to 2006 before taking the "World News" helm.
As he wrapped up his speech Thursday, Gibson told his colleagues it is important to maintain their same high standards after he leaves.
"It is important, what we do," he said. "We need to keep doing it in an objective and fair manner."