The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What Jim Vance meant to me

Jim Vance at the annual summer picnic at Colbert King’s house in 2014. (Courtesy of Gwen King)
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This one hits hard. It hurts with the intensity of losing someone close, but how close you never quite realized until the news comes that he’s gone. That is what Jim Vance meant to me.

I knew him, as did many in this town, as a fellow journalist. He was, of course, in a class by himself. The rest of us newsies just tagged along.

I did a few journalist things with him over the years. We once sat on an outdoor WRC-TV set with his co-anchor Doreen Gentzler freezing our butts off on Jan. 20, 2009 — but loving every second — as they covered, with my moments of banter, President Barack Obama’s historic swearing-in and inaugural parade.

When I was in the WRC newsroom on other business, I usually saw him in action off the air preparing for the news show with the confidence of a master artist at work.

But it was our time away from the trade, when job titles, schedules and requirements to play the role were set aside, that those precious moments were used to deepen the bond that joined us.

It was a bond formed during an earlier time and era that will never come again. It grew out of our historically black college experience — his at then-Cheyney State College outside Philadelphia, mine at Howard University here in Washington — and our initiation into Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity where we served as Life Members. Securely joined experiences were shared and recalled whenever we got together.

It was usually done away from the public glare, frequently on the grounds of my home and in the company of mainly African American men who gather annually under picnic-like circumstances to eat, drink, tell occasional lies and trade stories about life in the real world. And we laughed a lot. Belly laughs, howls from deep inside.

And he and I spoke of things not easy to talk about: what it’s really like on the job — it ain’t all sunshine and roses. And what it means to be clinically depressed, a condition that we shared. He invited me, but I never opened up about it on the air.

The last time Jim Vance asked me for something was in April when he called my home and left a message seeking the name and phone number of one of the regular picnic attendees who was a noted oncologist, which my wife, Gwen, supplied.

Jim Vance was not at this year’s picnic. Now everyone knows why.

Jim Vance, longtime Washington, D.C. news anchor (1942-2017)

WASHINGTON, DC -- JUNE 17: Jim and Doreen prepare to return to the live broadcast after a commercial break. Doreen Gentzler and Jim Vance have been at NBC4.They've been continuously anchoring the 6 pm and 11 pm broadcasts since 1989.…. (photo by Andre Chung for The Washington Post) FOR MAGAZINE (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)