Memorial services for longtime television broadcaster Merri Dee will be held at 11 a.m. on May 3 at Christ Universal Temple, 11900 S. Ashland, according to her website. No details about the services were provided.
Dee died March 16 in Chicago. She was 85.
Many will remember Dee as a pioneering broadcaster at WGN-TV and courageous woman who survived a kidnapping attempt where she was shot twice in the head.
Born in Chicago on October 30, 1934, Dee graduated from Englewood High School. A single mother, she graduated from Midwestern Broadcasting School, now Columbia College Chicago.
In 1966, she began her broadcasting career at WBEE radio in south suburban Harvey. In 1968 Dee moved to television on WCIU- TV 26 and then WSNS- TV 44, where she hosted the “The Merri Dee Show.” Her show became popular as she blossomed on camera as an ambitious and rising television journalist.
On July 17, 1971, after working at WSNS-TV, Dee and one of her guests, psychic Alan Sandler were approached in the station parking lot by 21-year-old Samuel Drew. The man asked them for money and forced Dee to drive to a forest preserve. Drew shot Dee and Sandler twice in the head.
Sandler died. Dee managed to make it to the side of a road where she flagged down someone for help. In the next year, Dee fought through blindness and paralysis before she returned to television at WGN-TV, becoming one of the Black anchors in a major market.
Dee’s attacker served just 12 years in prison before he was released on parole. He continued calling Dee and harassing her via telephone. That led Dee to urge Illinois lawmakers to pass the Illinois Victims’ Bill of Rights in 1992, the first in the nation. Other states passed similar laws.
Dee’s life-threatening ordeal was the subject of several network programs, including 60 Minutes, the Phil Donahue Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Dee was on-air at WGN from 1972-1983 and later served as Director of Community Relations until her retirement in 2008. In a statement released following her death, WGN noted among her greatest legacies was as its Director of Community Relations.
Dee “spoke at thousands of events and helped to raise over $30 million dollars for WGN-TV Children’s Charities.” The statement concluded, “Merri Dee was a pioneer who will be greatly missed.”
After her broadcasting career, Dee started MD Communications, a consulting practice that inspires individuals and employees to rise above challenges and live successful lives. She served as an author and motivational speaker. In 2013, she published a memoir, “Life Lessons on Faith, Forgiveness & Grace.”
Dee has shared the stage with high-profile entertainers Lou Rawls, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Wilson, Bernie Mack, Frank Sinatra, and hundreds of other celebrities.
For more than 30 years, Dee served as the co-host and presenter of the nationally syndicated “UNCF Annual Evening of Stars,” raising tens of millions of dollars for college scholarships. She leveraged her relationship with the McCormick Foundation to raise more than $31 million for Chicago Children’s Charities. She steered tens of thousands of dollars to the annual back-to-school Bud Billiken Parade. Dee also hosted the prestigious Easterseals Telethon. She was one of the founders of a Chicago-based organization called Athletes for a Better Education.
Dee is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences Silver Circle Award; the National Gracie Allen Award from the Alliance for Women in Media; United Negro College Fund’s President’s Award; and the Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She has been recognized by the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame.
Most recently, Merri Dee was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame and honored by the National Women in Film. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Tougaloo College and Lewis University.
Dee was appointed to serve as an official U.S. Army Ambassador. She was appointed by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to serve on the Mayor’s Council on Women’s Issues, and by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to the Serve Illinois Commission, a volunteer advocacy delegation. Dee was also at one time the Illinois State President of AARP.
Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell said Dee “enriched the lives of others and enriched the culture of our community for many decades. Merri Dee was a trailblazer in community relations and in broadcast journalism. Besides being a broadcaster, she had an outstanding personality and was cultured—qualities our community appreciated. Today’s young journalists have some big shoes to fill.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “Merri Dee has truly made a positive and indelible mark on our city and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps.”