Lee Hall; Correspondent For NBC-TV and VOA

Lee Hall Valeriani was one of the earliest female network television correspondents. She later worked for 28 years at Voice of America.
Lee Hall Valeriani was one of the earliest female network television correspondents. She later worked for 28 years at Voice of America. (Nbc News Archives)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lee Hall Valeriani, 80, who was a foreign correspondent for NBC television in the 1950s and early 1960s and then worked for 28 years at Voice of America, died of cancer March 23 at her home in Washington.

Known professionally as Lee Hall, she was hired full time by NBC in the 1950s as a foreign correspondent and, with her first husband, Wilson D. Hall, reported from the Middle East and South America and also covered Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba.

A contemporary of Pauline Frederick, who is generally regarded as the first full-time female network television correspondent, Ms. Hall was far less known. In a decade when female on-air correspondents were so rare as to be notable, she and Frederick were friends, said Ms. Hall's second husband, former NBC correspondent Richard Valeriani, and both women covered the United Nations for NBC at different times in the 1950s.

Julius Goodman, former president of NBC, remembered Ms. Hall as "a good reporter, personable and energetic."

"She was tenacious and was interested in everything," he said. "Just one of those women with a kind of atmosphere about her, so you knew when you entered a room that you wanted to talk to her."

Friends described her as an elegant and modest woman who rarely discussed her groundbreaking career.

Ms. Hall worked primarily overseas, but she also was a member of NBC's coverage team at the 1960 political conventions and was the lone female correspondent on a panel with anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, answering questions in letters from listeners.

She reported for NBC Radio as well, and when she left NBC in 1962, she turned to VOA, supervising worldwide English news broadcasts, covering the White House and, for 10 years, running the West Coast bureau until retirement. She returned to Washington in 1990.

She was born in Oklahoma County, Okla., and graduated with a degree in journalism in 1947 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she met Hall. They married and moved to New Haven, Conn., and she worked for a local radio station and helped program children's shows in the early days of television.

Her husband was recalled to military service in the early 1950s, and they moved to Japan, where Ms. Hall covered the Korean War for Armed Forces Radio. By 1953, they were both working for NBC, stationed in Cairo, covering the Middle East. Ms. Hall reported on the 1952 military takeover of the Egyptian government and the abdication of King Farouk. She also filed audio reports on the 1956 Suez Canal crisis.

In Jordan, Ms. Hall broke the news of an assassination attempt on King Hussein. Her husband told another NBC colleague that they were attending a reception for the foreign press at the royal palace in Amman. Ms. Hall asked the king how he was, and he replied, "Fine, although they tried to kill me with poisoned toothpaste."

When the Halls returned to New York in 1957, she served as U.N. correspondent and was interviewed by "Today" show host Dave Garroway about political developments in Jordan.

In 1959, the couple was assigned to cover South America. They established a bureau in Rio de Janeiro and covered the continent, with a close eye on Cuba, where Fidel Castro had overthrown the Batista regime. They produced a 1960 program, "Castro's Year of Power," a view of "a Cuba rarely seen," with Ms. Hall exploring the Guantanamo town of Bernardo, whose once-busy business section had turned eerily quiet.

After the 1960 political conventions, she returned to South America, where the bureau was expanded to include Valeriani, based in Havana. By the end of 1961, the Halls were back in New York, and they had divorced.

Ms. Hall moved to Washington to work for VOA, where she reported and worked on programs. She covered the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1964 and 1968 and was part of the press corps accompanying President Lyndon B. Johnson on his trip to Asia and the Pacific.

She married Valeriani in 1965 and traveled abroad frequently. She became deputy chief of VOA's Worldwide English Division and also was VOA's White House correspondent. Her marriage to Valeriani ended in divorce in 1979, and she moved to Los Angeles to be chief of VOA's West Coast bureau.

After retiring in 1990, Ms. Hall moved back to Washington and worked part time for two British newspapers. She served a term as president of the D.C. Public Library's Palisades Branch and was a member of the board of the Institute for Learning in Retirement.

She had no immediate survivors.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company