The Coolest Cat Around
Long Staying NBC Anchor’s Pioneering Work Was Full Of Heart, Style
You could always see by that little twinkle in the corner of his eye when he flashed that broad smile that Jim Vance was genuine and real. Losing Jim at 75 marks not just a passing of a great voice in the DC area but also the soul of a family member who grew with us, laughed with us and shared suffering with us in periods of his life.
Jim Vance, who passed away quietly July 22 certainly lived much more brightly than even he may have imagined in his youth. He became a pioneering and award winning journalist who helped blaze a trail for African American journalists and professionals. Vance supported community groups and human rights efforts for over 30 years while he kept the wind at his back on his Harley. He was one of the first African American reporters to anchor at a major network. Atop the ratings for more than 25 years, Vance is recognizedas Washington’s longest serving local news anchor. He had been married 3 times, fought through drug addiction and depression – issues that in many ways made him more identifiable to the audience that he spoke to every evening.
But none of that came without a tough start. Vance’s father died before he reached his 10th birthday and Vance’s mother gave the youngster over to his grandparents. These would be hard early knocks for any kid growing up in post-World War II America. Jim never completely reconciled with the absence of his parents---and it would haunt him later in life.
It’s not surprising that Vance’s earliest aspirations were to follow his grandfather into the plumbing business. Although that was an option for Jim, his grandparents, like many of the time, saw greater possibilities through education. Eventually, so did Jim who graduated from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
By the end of the 1960s, Jim’s talent and charisma was in sync with network media’s interest in connecting with a more diverse audience. African American leaders and movements throughout the decade moved the tone of the national conversation and t.v. began looking for people who reflected the conversation – especially in urban markets. Vance’s media career began its rise at WRC-TV (Channel 4) newsroom in 1969.
Jim was perfect. In fact, Vance’s natural style and tone were the cornerstone of his impact and success with the work. Anybody with reasonable acting ability could read the news. What set Jim apart was his inimitable touch. His way of turning a phrase and his insight to the stories he helped to tell. Like any artist, athlete or pro, it took a while for Vance to find his own voice. But once he realized “Hey, maybe all I need to do is be myself…” everything else fell in place. Today, we call it swag. Back in the day, folks just said he had that cool.
It’s not remarkable how Jim came into the world or the sometimes awkward steps that his life took. These are pretty common. It’s remarkable what he did with his life and how he faced his challenges – personally and professionally – meeting them head on. And because of that he leaves us now with a winning legacy. No champion gets to any finish line without bumps and bruises. Hell, the bruises may even be the medals. But he did get across the line, he won his race and we are all better for it. Ride on, Jim. There are no speed limits now. You can open up that Harley to your heart’s content.