I imagine that there is/was a Jim Vance in most other major metropolitan areas--a local legendary newscaster known for his authenticity, humanity, and plain-speak. The cool guy who remained that way even as the years brought gray hair, fresher faces, and new technology; yet we continued to look for him because he was the guy we knew and trusted.
the various names that are synonymous with growing up in DC--Marion
Donnie Simpson, and Chuck Brown, Jim Vance's name definitely comes to
mind. Yet in a more subtle way since he was in the news business, so
perhaps it would be more appropriate to name a few of his peers: Tony
Kornheiser, Maury Povich (yep), Arch Campbell,
Bruce Johnston, J.C. Heywood, Maureen Bunyan, Patrick Ellis, Candy
Shannon, Pat Collins, Gordon Peterson, Susan Kidd, Courtland Milloy,
Donna Britt, Kojo Nnamdi, Diane Rehm, Joe Madison, and Cathy Hughes.
none of those names resonates for you, that's okay. You probably aren't
from DC or maybe you haven't lived here long enough to know why those
names are so significant.
Having grown up in a city
that most of the rest of the country does not quite understand (which is
a discussion for another time), I just want to remind you that we are a
distinct place with a local culture. So your congressman who lives here
three days a week and then rails about how hard it is to live in
Washington? Nope, he doesn't actually live here. Neither do the folks
who move into the White House, so as much as we loved Barack Obama, he
only just started living here after his term ended.
if you grew up here in DC, or if you have lived in this area for any
length of time (more than say, 10 years), then you know why everyone is
mourning the death of Jim Vance this past weekend.
am not an obituary writer and I never knew the man personally, so I
could not begin to write anything eloquent enough to shed any light on
why his impact was so great on this little city. But I can share an
anecdote that might illustrate how he endeared himself to us over the
years. It was about 20 years ago that Vance served as the Master of
Ceremonies for a benefit concert for my Dad and brothers' high school
alma mater. He was super cool and handled the task with aplomb. He
strolled to the microphone and introduced the headliner, the
incomparable Phyllis Hyman (another DC favorite) and could be seen
clapping and dancing along with the rest of us during the show. He
served as the MC for the next several years, and we looked forward to
seeing him as much as the acts, so the year he didn't MC was the last year they held the benefit.
can tell you that whenever we saw him outside of the job, maybe on the
street or at a local function, he was exactly as normal and
down-to-earth as he appeared on television. A little over a year ago we
saw him at the inauguration of my alma mater's new president in Atlanta,
and at some point he spotted my daughter engaged in some typical
one-year old toddler behavior. He seemed quite tickled by her antics,
and when we saw him again at the end of the program, he offered us that
reassuring smile that all veteran parents give to newbies...too bad I
was too frazzled and shy to ask him to pose for a photo with us because I
KNOW he would have obliged.
I have read the various
tributes and accolades and I am cognizant what his passing means to our
community, to his colleagues, to his family and friends, and to his
profession generally. In addition to sitting behind the anchor desk for
as long as I can remember, he was the last man standing from his era as
many of his colleagues and peers faded from the scene due to
retirements, management changes, and sadly even death. The last time DC
mourned a local newscaster like this it was George Michael,
Vance's very good friend who passed away a few years ago. From my
recollection, Vance offered up a rather stoic on-air tribute but I
remember it being classic Vance--he understood the job that he had and
the tone that he need to strike in order to do what must have been the
unthinkable. It was well-known that Michael had saved both Jim Vance's
life and his career back in the 80s.
personal struggles made him even more like us in ways that perhaps we
are only now coming to appreciate. His issues were never airbrushed or
spun to be anything other than what they were, which is why we regarded
him like that favorite uncle who doled out pearls of wisdom while
cracking on his wife, right before asking her to bring him a plate.
Because we knew him like that, it was no surprise that his image
was chosen for inclusion among the various local faces now immortalized
on the mural outside of the historic Ben's Chili Bowl uptown. How did we not think of honoring him like that before now?
he got to see how much his city loved him last month at the dedication
of the mural. And so we say goodbye to a pioneer of local broadcast
journalism, always dapper, poignant, and an all-around cool dude. Be
sure to say hello to a few others that have been missed around this way:
Max Robinson, Melvin Lindsey, Glenn Brenner, Tim Russert, and of course
your BFF George Michael. Godspeed.