Hundreds of friends and family filled the Washington National Cathedral Tuesday morning for a celebration of the life of trailblazing NBC4 anchor Jim Vance, who died July 22 at age 75 after a brief battle with cancer.
The memorial appropriately was filled with tears and laughter as family, friends and colleagues told heartwarming and hilarious stories.
His daughter said the memorial, with its music and its tributes from friends and colleagues, was perfect.
“He would have loved it,” Amani Vance said. “He would have absolutely loved it.”
NBC News and MSNBC anchor and correspondent Craig Melvin, a former News4 anchor and reporter, emceed, recalling his first meeting with Vance during a job interview at WRC and how Vance served as a mentor for him over the following decade.
"He was this walking statue of cool," Melvin said. "That effortless swagger, the laugh, the reassuring voice, the motorcycle, the earring, the genuine curiosity, the stories that he told and the style with which he lived and left."
Melvin underscored the impact Vance had on his profession.
"We've grown accustomed, thankfully, to seeing black men tell us what's happening in the world, but when Vance started, that wasn't the case," he said. "Not only was he a trailblazer, he always did it on his own terms. He was unapologetically black."
"It was almost inconceivable that a black man would occupy that chair, and he did so with an afro and a cadence familiar to the black community that had not been seen on such a platform ever before," said his son Brendon Pinkard. "He was so skilled at his craft that he never became the black anchor for most, but rather the anchorman of record for the city."Vance's longtime co-anchor, Doreen Gentzler, spoke of the impact he made on his coworkers.
"He has been the wise and compassionate leader in our newsroom for as long as I can remember," she said. "So many of us have talked about how we still hear his voice in our heads as we make decisions about how to cover the news of the day or how to write our copy."
"He took me under his wings like he did so many people," Majic 102.3 host Donnie Simpson said. "He was like the coolest big brother anyone could ever hope for."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reflected on growing up in Washington with Vance on TV every evening.
"He knew every part of our city, our bumps and our bruises, our tragedies, and our progress," she said. "These stories changed Jim and he became a part of us. Along the way his ability to capture our humanity, both our frailties and the best of us, became a part of us as well."
The Moonlighters sang "You Gave Me Peace of Mind," a sentiment about Vance shared by many since his death. The celebration also included musical performances by the Howard University Gospel Choir, Citizen Cope, Pastor Wintley Phipps, and a jazz recessional by the Jefferson Street Strutters.
Among those who gathered outside the National Cathedral to remember Vance were many people he may never have actually met but who felt like they knew because he was broadcast into their homes every night.
There were fellow journalists who have worked for competing television stations across town.
“Telling the truth and being honest, that’s his legacy for me as a journalist and as a friend,” WUSA anchor Andrea Roane said.
“We had such respect for each other,” former WJLA anchor Paul Berry said. “I'd say to him, ‘I have a better voice,’ and he'd say, ‘Yes, but you're short.’ I'd say, ‘I'm better looking,’ and he’d say, ‘Yes, but you're short.’”
“He has set this standard that we're all trying to live up to not only on TV as journalists but the way he lived his life in the community,” WTTG anchor Shawn Yancy said.
“How can you compete with someone like Jim Vance?” former WJLA reporter Kathleen Matthew asked. “He's beyond competition.”
Community and national leaders counted Vance as a friend.
“Was a prince but never lost the common touch,” Eric Holder said. “He was a friend.”
Of course, coworkers present and past from channel four attended.
“We had more fun, and to think that we got paid to do what we do,” Willard Scott said.
“I thought it was a profoundly moving tribute to a truly remarkable person,” Katie Couric said. “The absolute confidence in the guy,” Chris Matthews said. “We all looked up to him. We all did.”
“As Vance would say, Damn! What a day, what a life, what a celebration,” Bob Ryan said. “The joy that he brought filled the space. Damn, what a life.”
Vance attended Cheyney State outside Philadelphia, and a few of his friends and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers delighted the crowd with stories of Vance as a young man and a song they used to sing with him. Ken "QP" Hamilton remarked on how much of a ladies man his friend was.
"My mother loved Vance," he said, drawing a roar of laughter. "She was always asking about him. When they would see each other, she would kiss him in the mouth. She didn't kiss me in the mouth. She didn't kiss my father in the mouth."
Before becoming a journalist, he taught in his hometown of Philadelphia. He started reporting at WRC-TV in Washington in 1969.
He 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.
Remembering Jim Vance
"To Vance, the person in need was more important than the scoop," Gentzler said. "He walked into the mayor’s house past all those stakeout cameras, without a camera. I don’t even think he took a notebook."
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.
"His demons were well-documented, and I’m convinced that so many felt so much when he slipped away because he shared so openly about how those demons shaped him," Melvin said. "He was flawed but he never pretended to be otherwise."
Johnny W. Allem, founder and president of Aquila Recovery Clinic, shared the message of hope Vance offered about 30 years ago as Allem marked six years of addiction recovery.
"Imagine the strengths he had to have to do what he did in such a professional way, knowing that it all could slip away in a moment," Allem said of Vance's recovery. "He won. Jim’s journey was filled with service to others."
Vance's 11 p.m. shows with longtime broadcast partner Gentzler were sometimes the highest-rated shows of the entire day. Together for almost 30 years, Jim and Doreen were one of the longest-running anchor teams in the country.
"For 28 years, I got to sit next to the coolest guy in Washington, and for that I am very, very grateful," Gentzler said. "I looked up to him, I learned from him, I laughed with him, sometimes I laughed at him. I argued with him, and we always had each other’s backs."
Vance announced his diagnosis with cancer earlier this year and took that opportunity to reflect on the wonderful life he lived.
"Rest easy, now," his son concluded. "You lived an extraordinary life and made the world a better place for everyone blessed to have been in your presence."