Poignant Stories Used in Homage to Jim Vance

Stars and Common Folks Remember Legendary Newsman

Jim Vance
Jim Vance (Courtesy of WRC-TV)

The late Jim Vance has been widely described as charismatic, smooth and professional among the millions of viewers who watched the legendary NBC-4 anchor for nearly five decades.

And the beat continued as several of his closest colleagues and longtime friends shared stories about Vance at a memorial celebration Tuesday, Sept. 12 inside the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest.

Vance’s longtime anchor partner and friend Doreen Gentzler said Vance once even attempted to distract meteorologist Bob Ryan as he presented the weather forecast when Vance pulled down his pants and mooned him in the studio.

Laughs cascaded throughout the cathedral after one college friend and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. brother, Kenneth Hamilton of Philadelphia, recalled when Hamilton’s mother greeted Vance. He also told the hundreds in attendance Vance wasn’t found of his nickname, “Brother Recline” — a moniker he received in reference to his cool, relaxed persona.

“My mother loved Vance. When they saw each other, she would kiss him in the mouth,” Hamilton, 75, said. “She didn’t kiss me in the mouth. She didn’t kiss my father in the mouth.”

Another college friend from Cheney State College [now Cheney University of Pennsylvania] said Vance didn’t graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

“Jim Vance got a bachelor’s in secondary education in English,” said Wendell Whitlock, another of Vance’s fraternity brothers. “That’s an indication of the education he actually received at Cheney State College.”

Whitlock also told the audience about Vance’s forays in sports at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia — the same high school where former Los Angeles Laker standout Kobe Bryant played and from where he announced his decision to forego college and head straight to the NBA.

After Vance graduated from Cheney in 1965, he taught three years as a high school English teacher in Philadelphia.

Then, without any journalism experience, he left school in 1968 and took his chances at a Philadelphia TV station. One year later in 1969, WRC recruited Vance where he remained until cancer ended his life on July 22. A private service took place July 31 in Aspen Hill, Maryland.

According to NBC Washington, Vance won 17 Emmy Awards. He was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2007.

Vance, formerly known as James Howard Vance III, remains symbolic in the Greater Washington Area. He often relayed his faults to his viewers including three marriages and a battle with drugs and depression.

In 1990, the D.C. Mayor Marion Barry called Vance for advice on how to battle drug addiction. Vance accepted the invitation and drove to Barry’s house.

Vance wrote a commentary in August 1997 entitled “The Real Superheroes” after a fire broke out in his D.C. neighborhood and admitted he took firefighting for granted. His words are hung and framed inside several stations for firefighters to read.

“I was grateful to know that in the event of a fire . . . my family and I couldn’t be in better hands,” he said.

One of Vance’s last tweets on Twitter came April 21 to welcome former ABC-7 broadcaster Leon Harris to the NBC-4 family. “Thrilled to have @RealLeonHarris on our team. Welcome bro!”

In June, a newly-painted mural on the wall of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Northwest which honored several musical stars and local legends included Vance among its numbers.

Vance would hold the distinction of serving as the longest-running anchor in the region and remains one of the first Black anchors at a major network.

“When it comes to community, the main thing is you identify with the community you report on. That’s what Vance did,” said Sirius XM radio host Joe Madison. “If it was Southeast, he understood that as a kid growing. He identified with successful people because he was successful. That’s why he was so influential.”

After the memorial service, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder talked about what made Vance different from most others in his profession.

“I think what people remember is he was the voice of the truth — unapologetic,” Holder said. “He stated the facts and stayed true to who he was. He was a prince who never lost the common touch. He was my friend. I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.”

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About William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer 357 Articles
I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com