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A Fond Farewell To Retiring NPR Producer Peter Breslow

(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONICA, DOG HOWLING)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is Peter Breslow, our senior producer, playing blues harmonica for Sadie, his family dog. A man who entertains his dog sums up much about Peter. He retires this weekend after more years at NPR than either of us can remember, much of it working together. Peter and I have reported the world together. We've been in bunkers, foxholes, in the huts of warlords. We've walked through battlefields, minefields and the killing fields of Kosovo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON: The sad fact is shoes and shirts last longer than flesh. All that remained of the man was bone and mud and flies. The soldiers placed a delicate pile of possessions on his collapsed chest - a black wallet, a plastic watch, a half-crushed pack of Serbian cigarettes.

And we were in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, just after the destruction of the huge statues of Buddha by the Taliban, where Sahid Hussein told us...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAHID HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) It was shaking. And there were huge explosions. There was fire all over in this area. And parts of the Buddha statue were blown up to every direction, even behind those houses that you can see.

SIMON: But the war zones haven't always been overseas. We spent nights with families in Chicago who locked down in the heat of summer because of gang wars on their street. As Michelle Harris said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MICHELLE HARRIS: A child should not have to say, I can't go out 'cause I might get shot. That's bad. That's bad.

SIMON: Peter was on Mount Everest in 1988 - thankfully without me - as part of a group called Cowboys on Everest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: Made it to the top of this - made it to the top of this pitch. Of course, there's another one right in front of me.

SIMON: Peter Breslow of River Edge, N.J., a cowboy on Everest. I've no idea what he's saying here. I think he just ran a few minutes on a treadmill to make it sound authentic. Then again, he got a Peabody for his reporting.

Peter and I covered the war in Kosovo shortly after he and his wife Jessica discovered they were going to welcome twins into their lives. We stayed in an apartment in a Muslim housing complex in Pristina. There were a group of children in the building who'd lived through bombs, fear and devastation and welcomed us as a kind of distraction. We sure welcomed them. They'd knock on our door more or less to play. We'd sit out with them in a parking lot of bombed and burnt-out cars. Leo del Aguila, our recording engineer, sang "Besame Mucho." I'd sing show tunes nobody wanted to hear, and Peter played his harmonica.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONICA)

BRESLOW: (Singing) Jesse G, Jesse G. She's turning the big 5-0.

SIMON: The children loved it. They laughed and danced. Peter's eyes were alight as he played Chicago blues and mugged for youngsters. I got a glimpse of the great father he would soon become.

Sometimes you wonder in this business, and maybe any line of work, what worth your work has been in any other lives. This week, I heard from Erblin Mehmetaj, who was one of the youngsters in that Pristina housing complex with whom we played, joked and goofed around. He is now Dr. Mehmetaj, a professor of math at Georgetown. We, a bunch of 8- to 14-year-olds who'd just lived through a war, Urblin told us, felt this was a special memory, to hear Peter serenade us. It was so happy and memorable, it almost made up for our very difficult time.

Peter Breslow has brought home stories from people all over the world and amplified their voices, often in their most troubled times. And he gives us all the enduring gift of his indestructible grace and good humor. His departure has us singing the blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONICA)

BRESLOW: (Singing) Well, she's a whirlwind in the kitchen, cook you up some tofu. It was so fine. Yeah, she's a whirlwind in the kitchen. She'd cook you up...

SIMON: Why is everybody expecting me to cry? Now he has the time to finally learn how to play that instrument. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. (Laughter) I'm Scott Simon.

BRESLOW: (Singing) And when she bakes her chocolate brownie...

(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONICA) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.