Local journalists, fans react to Jim Vance’s death

WASHINGTON — Journalists, viewers, friends and fans are sharing their memories of longtime NBC Washington anchor Jim Vance who died Saturday at 75 after a battle with cancer.

NBC Washington reporter Mark Segraves said Vance personified Washington. “If I had to pick one person to represent Washington, not Capitol Hill, but our neighborhood, our hometown, our communities, good and bad, it would be Vance.”

That’s how many of his colleagues called him, Vance. “Nobody called him Jim,” said NBC Washington reporter Tom Sherwood.

Voice for the voiceless

Gordon Peterson, retired Washington anchor and friend of Vance’s, said people in the D.C. community thought of Vance as a friend and a neighbor.

People looked to Vance as a leader and a voice for people who aren’t in the center of power, not lobbyists, but “people who lived in the neighborhood and communities of Washington,” said ABC News’ Jack Cloherty.

Cloherty and Segraves described Vance as a “voice for the voiceless.”

“He didn’t hold back. Whether it was the president of the United States, the mayor of D.C., his boss; if he saw something that wasn’t right … he would say something. He would do it on air, in his commentary. He would do it in person,” Segraves said.

Peterson remembers that Vance didn’t like the word Redskins for the Washington Team. “He made that pretty clear,” Peterson said.

What you see is what you got

Movie critic Arch Campbell who worked with Vance at NBC Washington remembers the advice Vance got from NBC and ABC anchor David Brinkley: Be yourself. Campbell said that Vance never did what the consultants told him to do. “They said, ‘Cut your hair.’ He grew an Afro. He always spoke truth to power.”

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Sherwood recalled walking to cover a political convention with Vance, who was stopped frequently by fans and friends who wanted to speak with him. When Sherwood reminded Vance that they couldn’t be late for work, Vance replied “I know,” then returned to his conversation.

Meteorologist Bob Ryan said that with Vance, “What you see is what you got. The trust and integrity, it came through.” But along with that, some of the pain also came through, said Ryan.

In 2015, he spoke openly about his struggles with substance abuse and depression in an interview with colleague and co-anchor Doreen Gentzler. “He had his own personal troubles … but he was open about it,” Sherwood said.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan said Vance has that cool, as well as professional style. “He had that thing where you reach out from behind the television screen and got you. He didn’t have to try. He just had it,” Ryan said.

“So many anchors on TV, if you look around the country, when they laugh at something they sound kind of insincere … but when Jim Vance laughed on TV, it would disrupt the show because if he were truly amused, he would laugh and they’d have to refigure the show because he’d eat up so much time laughing,” Sherwood said.

Vance’s laughter is something Campbell will always remember — that and Vance saying “My man.” Segraves said he will always remember when Vance would be so moved over a story and go off-script and start on one of his rants. He will also remember Vance’s impeccable impersonation of NBC Washington reporter Pat Collins.

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The National Association of Black Journalists released a statement commemorating Vance’s career. Dorothy Tucker, NABJ Board Vice-President of Broadcast said Vance was not only respected locally, but nationally too.

“He was the consummate journalist we all admired and longed to emulate. He will be missed,” Tucker said in the statement. NABJ inducted Vance into the Association’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Ryan said that Vance, who came to D.C. in 1969, a year after the riots had just ripped the city apart, was a voice that had not been heard from in broadcasting. “People forget that African American broadcasters were not common in those days,” and Vance bridged a gap in the diverse city.

Inspiration to journalists and viewers

When he graduated from the University of Maryland in 2012, Czarlite Ricasa said Vance was the keynote speaker. Vance’s speech to the graduates stayed with Ricasa years after the ceremony, Ricasa told WTOP in an email.

“Mr. Vance was kind enough to mingle with all of us after the ceremony. I am sad to learn of Mr. Vance’s death. He was truly a hometown hero and his [inspirational] words and actions will live with all of us for ages,” Ricasa said.

Segraves said that Vance took helping younger generations of reporters seriously. “He was a mentor to me,” he said.

Vance viewer Richard Mazzochi said he watched Vance every evening. “I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times and talking with him about how much he enjoyed being the biggest celebrity in Washington D.C. Jim Vance was the best at what he did … and I will never forget him,” Mazzochi said in an email to WTOP.

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The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi said that Vance, along with Gentzler, was “the landmark. They were stability.” Vance recognized that TV news has changed over time and that the audiences are scattering and getting smaller. “You’re never going to have one figure like him as the consensus popular choice.”

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