Thousands of friends, colleagues and strangers joined President Bush and his wife, Laura, in paying respects on Tuesday to Tim Russert.

Several hundred people were in line more than an hour before the early afternoon start of the wake at St. Albans School, an elite private boys school on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral in Northwest Washington. Many had never met the host of the Sunday-morning talk show "Meet the Press."

But some felt like they knew him, nonetheless.

"It's just like a family member that's gone," said Mary Jo Quinn, who had traveled from Russert's hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to the Washington area for a wedding over the weekend. She and her husband extended their trip so they could attend the wake.

Russert, who was also the Washington bureau chief for NBC News, died Friday of a heart attack at the age of 58. His son, Luke, is a graduate of the school where the wake was held.

Russert was a political insider who was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington's most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue-collar roots.

He often talked of growing up in Buffalo, home to his beloved Bills of the National Football League. He wrote two best-selling books, including the much-loved "Big Russ and Me" about his relationship with his father.

"He walked with kings but he never forgot his roots," said Quinn, who was standing in line with a Buffalo Bills T-shirt draped over her shoulders. "He put Buffalo on the map. He made Buffalo a cool place."

Bush, accompanied by the first lady, was one of the first people to enter the closed-casket wake, which was scheduled to last seven hours. The president stayed about 20 minutes while the growing crowd outside waited patiently on a pleasant, sunny day.

The crowd was a mix of people in suits and dresses interspersed with a few wearing jeans and shorts _ a wake for someone who had touched a wide variety of people.

Joe McGuire said he coached Luke Russert in youth baseball, while Tim Russert was an assistant coach.

McGuire said the proud dad was a big baseball fan and he will remember Russert "laughing, smiling and having a great time."

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat whose district includes part of the Buffalo area, said the loss is keenly felt in Russert's hometown. Slaughter said she was reminded of Russert's popularity by the wide variety of people in line at the wake.

"There were some from Syracuse, there were nuns from Springfield, Ill., and they all came out and stood in the sun to pay their respects," Slaughter said. "It was just remarkable."

A private funeral was scheduled for Wednesday morning, to be followed by an invitation-only memorial service at Washington's Kennedy Center in the afternoon.

___

Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.