For 48 years at NBC4, Jim Vance’s smooth voice and calm presence made viewers feel that, no matter how bad the news was, it would be OK.
Vance died July 22 at age 75 after a brief battle with cancer.
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 has 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.
Vance announced his diagnosis with cancer earlier this year and took that opportunity to reflect on the wonderful life he lived.
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.
Jackie Bradford, president and general manager of NBC4, spoke from the heart when she announced his passing.
“We are heartbroken to announce that Jim Vance died this morning.
“For more than 45 years, Jim Vance was not only the soul of NBC4 but of the entire Washington area. His smooth voice, brilliant mind and unforgettable laugh leaves each of us with a tremendous void.
“Vance always celebrated the good and acknowledged the parts of life that didn’t go so well. That made him a great man.
“To everyone in the Washington area who is heartbroken today, please know we grieve right along with you. Jim loved his job, his family and Washington with all his heart, and we will all cherish the legacy he has left us forever.”
Jim Vance never grew tired of reminding himself where he came from and how lucky he was to be invited into area homes for so many decades.
Among the many legacies Vance leaves behind are those of his children and grandchildren, and everyone at NBC4 grieves right along with them.