A Year Gone, Never Forgotten: News4 Remembers Jim Vance

It's been one year since D.C. lost Jim Vance.

Vance's bright smile, his wit and his wisdom are missed every day. We at NBC4 especially miss the way he made all of us feel like close friends.

But he also connected with you.

He had an amazing ability to reach people through his story-telling. Since his death on July 22, 2017, we've received countless emails, messages, letters and posts from people of all walks of life.

For 48 years, Vance’s smooth voice and calm presence made viewers feel that, no matter how bad the news was, it would be OK.

He died at age 75 after a brief battle with cancer.

"He loved this city and we loved him back," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said after he died. "I know I speak for all 681,000 of us in sharing my condolences with his family, with his work family, with all of his viewers and just thanking him for a job well done."

Over his decades on News4, Jim Vance had an impact on radio, too, inspiring many personalities. Molette Green reports.

Former colleagues lifted up Vance as a journalist.

"Washington loved Jim Vance," said Bob Ryan, who worked at NBC4 alongside Vance for decades. "He was loved not because he was a TV anchorman, a celebrity or a 'personality.' He was loved because of his life, his continuity in our lives and the trust we had in him. Every day for 30 years I would watch him edit bad grammar or a poorly written news story on the fly, as he read it. No one I ever worked with could do that. There is and was only one Vance. What a life. What a journalist. What a friend. Knowing and working with him enriched my life and also I 'had a ball,' as Vance would say. He'll always be with everyone who loves him."

"I saw people fall in love with him, the viewers fall in love with him and I also saw Washington embracing him during the time when he was challenged with some personal issues. He was very open about them and he won the hearts of a lot of people who could see themselves in his issues," said former WJLA anchor Maureen Bunyan.

Washington leaders, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder remember Jim Vance. News4's Tom Sherwood and Doreen Gentzler report.

Before becoming a journalist, Vance was a teacher in his hometown of Philadelphia. He started reporting at WRC-TV in Washington in 1969. He was an only child, but Vance always contended he never knew that. His grandparents had 16 kids, so there were always young people around Vance’s early life.

Vance made a name for himself covering stories all over the world, including Vietnam, El Salvador and South Africa. But he didn’t have to go far for some of his best work: reporting on the people in his beloved adopted hometown of Washington.

For almost 50 years, Vance told viewers about every big story that occurred in D.C. From the race riots on U Street and in Columbia Heights to the 14th Street Bridge plane crash to Watergate to the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and 9/11, Jim Vance kept the people of the Washington area informed and comforted.

He covered the inaugurations of 12 presidents and all seven of D.C.’s mayors. In 1977, Vance was the person the Hanfi Muslims asked to speak to the night they seized three buildings, and he was the first journalist Marion Barry called after he got arrested.

His “Vance’s View” provided a dose of reality that could be refreshing, even for those who disagreed with him.

Vance had some dark times as well, struggling with drugs and depression. But his openness about those struggles further endeared him to the people of Washington and provided him with the opportunity to teach young people that there was a better way.

"When cocaine almost killed me, and I left here in 1984 to go to the Betty Ford Center,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2011, “I got boxes and boxes of letters from people saying little more than 'I’m praying for you.'"

His banter with his fellow anchors earned his recognition from the Foo Fighters as he and former sports anchor George Michael couldn’t stop laughing at a runway model’s misfortune. His love of area sports teams was on full display.

Vance's 11 p.m. shows with longtime broadcast partner Doreen Gentzler were sometimes the highest-rated shows of the entire day. Together for almost 30 years, "Jim and Doreen" -- as they were known -- were one of the longest-running anchor teams in the country.

Over the years, Vance received many honors and awards, but his final one was perhaps the most meaningful to him as his face was added to the mural aside Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite spot of his through his entire life in Washington.

NBC News correspondent Blayne Alexander had the opportunity to learn from Jim Vance when she was an intern.

His last interview was with Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It turned out to be an Emmy award-winning interview.

Vance was a true legend.

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