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Legendary Boston news anchor died of cancer
BOSTON — For the daughters of Chet Curtis, he was just “Dad.”
He helped them with homework, though not in math where he struggled, took them for ice cream and dropped them off at school.
But as daughters Dana, Dawn and Lindsay grew up, they watched their father, who died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at the age of 74, handle his fame with humility.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why do all these people want him to write his name on a piece of paper?’ Then I realized how they felt so comfortable with him. He was gracious beyond gracious. He had the most wonderful way of talking to people,” said daughter Dana Keep.
Curtis with then-wife Natalie Jacobson were Boston news royalty, as they dominated the airwaves for decades on WCVB-TV.
He may have enjoyed the fame, the daughters said, but it did not change him.
“He used to say, ‘I will never take this for granted. I will never not take the time to talk to someone who wants to come over and say hello. You can’t take this for granted,'” said daughter, Dawn Hanley.
“He just treated everyone equally. He would treat the taxi drivers on Nantucket the same way he would treat the head of state he was interviewing,” said Hanley.
For Lindsay Curtis Wynalek, the youngest of the daughters, the lasting gift from her father is the effort he made to stay alive long enough, after his cancer diagnosis, to attend her wedding last summer.
“That was the greatest gift my dad could have given me. To know how hard he fought to give his last daughter away. It was questionable at times,” she said. “He just said, ‘I am going to be there.’ I will never forget the moment of walking down the aisle and him giving me away.”
WCVB-TV news anchor dominated Boston airwaves
BOSTON —Chet Curtis, the voice of the nightly news for New Englanders for nearly 50 years, has died.
Curtis, 74, died Wednesday, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
A native of Amsterdam, N.Y., he began his television career in Washington and Manhattan, but it was in Boston where the name “Chet” became synonymous with news.
“You really can’t lie to a camera and the camera just loved Chet,” said Jim Coppersmith, former WCVB president and general manager. “He was honest, he was real and he was human.”
Curtis was with WCVB-TV when it launched in 1972.
“Chet Curtis was much more than an extraordinary journalist. He was a generous mentor and sincere friend to so many here at WCVB,” said Bill Fine, WCVB-TV President and General Manger.
As a reporter and anchor, he offered generations of New Englanders a front row seat to the Boston visits of Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela.
Anchoring with his then-wife Natalie Jacobson, the names Chet and Nat rolled off the tongues of television viewers as one. They were known in almost every household in New England.
“Chet had a comfort and ease on the anchor desk unrivaled in the marketplace,” Paul La Camera, former Channel 5 general manager, told the Boston Phoenix in a 2008 interview. “She brought the intensity, so they complemented each other pretty nicely.”
As the Phoenix article observed, “Curtis made his job look as simple as rolling out of bed, it’s also easy to underestimate his skills.”
“Nat was very good at doing the interview,” the late WCVB-TV News Director Jim Thistle told the newspaper. “But Chet was driving the ship. He understood television.”
When their daughter, Lindsay, was born in 1981, Curtis and Jacobson received about 5,000 cards from viewers and the birth was the lead story on the 6 p.m. news.
When their marriage ended in 1999 after nearly 25 years, Curtis moved to New England Cable News to anchor its nightly news interview program.
In the WCVB-TV newsroom, he was a friend, a mentor and a leader for whom staff members had great affection.
“Chet was the ‘Mayor’ of NewsCenter 5, a most popular presence in the station and we will always remember him with the utmost amount of respect and fondness. He was a very good man,” said Fine.
“He was the social glue in this organization,” said long-time WCVB-TV medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson. “He really added something to the level of levity and yet seriousness in the newsroom that was incomparable. He was unique.”
“Chet was a consummate story teller. He had more stories than anybody I’ve ever known and they were all entertaining,” said his friend and former NewsCenter 5 meteorologist Dick Albert.
Curtis was also an accomplished singer. He attended Ithaca College to study music and continued to sing late into his life, holding court at watering holes in the Boston area. To the end, he said he considered himself simply “a crooner.”
In November 2012, Curtis was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with his induction into the rare and prestigious Gold Circle, honoring 50 years of broadcasting.
This past year, he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
“Everyone will miss him and all of WCVB’s staff, past and present, extend our sincerest condolences to his family, so many of whom we have grown up with and consider good friends,” said Fine.
Curtis leaves daughters Dana and Dawn from his first marriage, and Lindsay.