In the early 1980s, with cable in its infancy and network anchors dominating the airwaves, one of the most identifiable, and beloved, was NBC’s Jessica Savitch.
A pioneering woman in broadcasting, Savitch was only 30 when, in 1977, fresh from local TV news jobs in Philadelphia and Houston, NBC News hired her to cover Congress. Savitch went on to be the first woman to anchor a weekend newscast for NBC, and perhaps was best known for her highly-visible primetime ’news capsule’ updates. Her rocky personal life made headlines too.
But it all came to an end on a rainy autumn night in 1983, when the car Savitch was in plunged into a Bucks County, Pennsylvania canal, killing her and the car’s driver, 34-year-old Martin Fischbein, a vice president at the New York Post.
As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of that day – October 23 – TVNewser reached out to friends, family, and colleagues for their memories of Jessica Savitch, who was just 36 when she died.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “Jessica Savitch was a warm-hearted, caring person and a pioneer in broadcasting who lost her life tragically just as she was soaring to new heights. She was my friend at KYW in Philadelphia and my office mate at NBC in Washington. I was privileged to know her and mourn her loss, along with friends and family, so many years later.”
Former KYW Co-Anchor Mort Crim, who delivered the eulogy at Savitch’s funeral: “Her untimely passing was a loss to me, personally, and to the world of TV journalism. I’ve worked with many talented people, but none who could surpass Jess for a combination of ability, sensitivity and drive…An agent for Will Farrell contacted me a few weeks ago as Anchorman II was nearing completion to remind me that Jess and I had been the inspiration for the first Anchorman movie…Jess was 25 years old when we first shared an anchor desk. But the years fly by swiftly and she would now be 65, something I can hardly believe. I still miss her.”
NBC’s Tom Brokaw: “It was such a sad, even tragic ending, to a life that was the classic American success story. Jessica had a wide following of admirers, first in Philadelphia and then on the network – and just when she seemed to have found personal happiness, the untimely end.”
After the jump, thoughts from Sue Simmons, Fred Francis, and Linda Ellerbee…plus Lori Savitch on the journalism scholarships that honor her sister thirty years later.