By Sally King Contributed by Chinta Strasburg
Shocked by the sudden death of WGN-TV’s former broadcaster, 85-year-old Merri Dee, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. said on Wednesday she used her tremendous talents to help and inspire many people.
Dee was a TV star for 43 years in Chicago’s broadcasting community, mostly at WGN. Reverend Jackson said Dee, “…was an outstanding journalist and an honorable TV presenter. She could do it all. She was a great communicator and journalist. Merri Dee was a Chicago landmark and a survivor.”
A graduate of Englewood High School in Chicago, Dee began her broadcasting career at WBEE radio in south suburban Harvey in 1966. Two years later, she switched to television, hosting programs on WCIU- TV 26 and then WSNS-TV 44.
It was while working at WSNS- TV in 1971 that Dee and one of her guests, psychic Alan Sandler, were kidnapped outside the station. Both were shot in the head. Sandler was killed, while Dee was left for dead.
Dee used that experience to comfort and inspire others, becoming an advocate for violence prevention. After surviving the violent kidnapping in 1971, Dee rallied state politicians to draft the nation’s first Victims’ Bill of Rights in 1992—legislation that was then followed by other states.
“She will be sorely missed,” said Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell.
“She 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 expressed similar sentiments on Wednesday saying, “Merri Dee has truly made a positive and indelible mark on our city and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps.”
Dee was an author, a motivational speaker and career coach.
Saying he was in total shock, Art Norman, former anchor reporter at NBC and a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, remarked, “She was the best spokesperson for the United Negro College Fund fundraiser we’ve ever had. I emceed so many events with her for the United Negro College Fund.
“She always talked to people who were nearby,” Norman said. “People just wanted to touch her hands because for years at WGN she was the lady that spun the wheel that picked out the lottery numbers.
“People would walk up to her wanting to touch her hand. They touched her hand because they thought they would get luck from that,” reflected Norman. “She didn’t mind people touching her hand. I am shocked at her death,” he said.
N’Digo digital newspaper publisher Hermene Hartman remembers Dee as a “fabulous woman in every way.” She said Dee was “stunning, sharp and a broadcaster of the best ilk.”
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 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.”
On its website, WGN-TV noted that Dee was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame and was also the Illinois State President of the AARP.