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5 minutes with Jim Vance: The longtime TV news anchor (sorta) celebrates turning 75

Jim Vance in the WRC newsroom. (Andre Chung for The Washington Post)

Tuesday is WRC news anchor Jim Vance’s 75th birthday. The longtime newsman, who has been at the local Washington NBC station for more than four decades, might not be slowing down much — he retired from anchoring the 11 p.m. newscast only last year but still helms the 6 p.m. hour alongside Doreen Gentzler. But when we caught up with him, Vance turned down jazz music playing in the background and shushed a yammering Alexa to chat about low-key birthdays, letter-writing and some major life changes he’s making.

Happy birthday. How are you celebrating?

As I normally celebrate my birthday: very, very quietly. I’ve never been big on big on birthdays. I have friends who celebrate all year, but even as a kid, birthdays weren’t all that. I mean, I appreciate them, especially now. I remember when I thought that turning 75 would be an impossibility.

I’ll go to dinner tonight with some friends, and this weekend, I’ll have brunch with my children — who are no longer children. If there’s a cake, it’s not because I ordered it. I don’t know if I have the lung power to blow out 75 candles.

Do you still smoke and ride a Harley?

Yes to both, unfortunately. Now, I’ll be riding Harleys ’til the day I die. But I do have a goal that I haven’t had in past years. I can’t believe I’m putting this out there, but I think that’s what you’re supposed to do. At 10:27 tonight, which is the time I’m told I was born, I’m quitting smoking.

Whoa, that’s a big one. Have you prepared for it?

I’ve done hypnosis, patches, classes, Chantix, pretty much all the things recommended and suggested, and none has worked. None has worked because I wasn’t ready to do it. When I quit cocaine in 1987, it was because I was absolutely done, I was through. I’m assuming that’s the case with cigarettes.

Is it weird when people come up to you and act like they know you?

It’s gratifying. Folks have a choice of what they want to do at 6 o’clock. People invite us in to their most intimate places — into their kitchens, living rooms, into the bedroom. So when people act like they know me, I’m grateful.

I’m not happy when someone comes up to me in a restaurant and grabs my arm when it’s halfway between a plate and my mouth, but anything beyond that is fine.

Are you on social media?

Here’s the deal with that: I have a Twitter account that I once wrote on. I tweeted about a bike trip and all the tweets I got in response — I felt obliged to answer them all. So I stopped. I wrote a letter on Sunday to an old friend of mine, and someone asked, ‘Why didn’t you just post on Facebook or message her or something?’ I’m old school — if I have something to say to you, I’ll write a letter. I still find value in pen and paper.

What were you listening to when I called?

Dexter Gordon is and has been one of my favorite artists. I like jazz — Dexter and Miles, all those guys. Most of the time, when I’m [at home], there’s almost always music on because it soothes my soul.

You’re a longtime Redskins fan, but you’ve been critical of the organization, and said on air following that last loss to the Giants that you were sick of them. Has a little bit of time healed the disappointment?

No, the disappointment has not faded, it just builds … year after, game after game. I still have a great appreciation for the players — they’re what I always wanted to be. But I have issues with the organization and with management.

You know, I used to be a Packers fan. I’m going back to the Packers. There’s something about that team, that organization and those athletes that appeals to me.

So you’re quitting smoking and the Redskins. That’s a lot of change at 75! 

That’s true. [Laughs] I am as optimistic, or probably more, than I’ve ever been. I am looking forward to tomorrow and enjoying the hell out of today in a way I never had in my life, and I think that comes from living long enough to appreciate it. This morning it occurred to me that there are so many of my boys who are not celebrating their 75th birthdays. It’s sobering and… incentizing, if I can make up a word.

I wake up every day with a smile on my face, and that’s a blessing.

You interviewed President Obama. If you had the chance, what would you ask President Trump?

I’d ask, ‘why do you care what Meryl Streep thinks?’ I’d ask… ‘why is obfuscation…’ Well, what is it I’m trying to say? It’s more like, ‘Why you gotta lie?’ The questions I would ask have less to do with policy than character. I want my president to be presidential. I will never not respect the office, and I want to be proud.

[Laughs] Now I’ve probably said too much.