Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist Sylvia Chase, among the first women to serve as a broadcast news anchor in the Bay Area and an early reporter on the national primetime ABC network news magazine “20/20,” died Jan. 3 at The Redwoods skilled nursing facility in Mill Valley after undergoing surgery for brain cancer in November. The longtime Belvedere resident was 80 years old.
Ms. Chase collected an Emmy for her 1979 “20/20” report on exploding automobile gas tanks. Then, in a move that made national news, she was hired in 1985 as a news anchor by KRON-TV in San Francisco. Four years later, she won a Peabody Award her hourlong documentary on homeless children.
Born Feb. 23, 1938, in Northfield, Minn., Ms. Chase was raised by her grandmother after her own parents divorced. She earned her bachelor’s in English at the Universit
y of California at Los Angeles. She started her career in politics, working at the California State Legislature and managing political campaigns.
Her broadcasting career began in 1969, when she was 31, with a two-year stint at KNX, a CBS radio affiliate.
Her first big break came when CBS brought her to New York in 1971 to host another radio series. Along with Connie Chung, Leslie Stahl and Michele Clark, she became part of the “second wave” of women the network transferred to its TV news division to respond to criticism it needed more women on camera in reporting positions. She became a correspondent in 1974, covering stories for anchor Walter Cronkite’s evening news broadcast, and went on to anchor “CBS Newsbreak” and host CBS’s “Magazine” news show during those years.
In 1977, she moved over to ABC News, where she worked as a general assignment reporter and co-anchor of ABC News’ “Weekend Report.” She was the first woman correspondent on “20/20,” working on the show from its launch in 1978 until 1985. She left in part to protest a decision by ABC News President Roone Arledge to kill her story on Marilyn Monroe’s relationships with President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Arledge was friendly with the Kennedy family, according to Long Island newspaper Newsday.
Ms. Chase then became co-anchor at KRON and also hosted six documentaries per year, including one on environmental degradation in Russia. She frequently turned her attention to the AIDS crisis and to issues affecting children.
In 1990, she returned to ABC News in New York to do stories for “Primetime Live.” She narrated “Hopkins 24/7,” a six-hour documentary aired in 2000 about Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
While she was at ABC, TV Guide called her “the most trusted woman on TV.”
Later, in 2006, she did work for the PBS program “Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports.”
Legendary television journalist Bill Moyers worked with Ms. Chase at CBS in the 1970s and later at “Exposé.”
“She was a natural at reporting, really interested in people, determined to get the story right, eager for the next one,” Moyers said in an Ark interview. “People said she was tough, but it was principle that prompted her to stand her ground to protect her own integrity and the integrity of our craft. She fought the overzealous executive out to prevent journalists from embroiling the organization in any controversy that would threaten profits, because she believed she had a responsibility to the people interviewed to do justice to what they told her.”
Moyers called Ms. Chase “a breakthrough pioneer for women in journalism.” In a June 2017, Newsday called Ms. Chase “one of the most influential women in TV news.”
“She had your back as a colleague, because she believed in return you would have hers; that was how she thought about camaraderie in our craft,” he said.
Rick Kaplan, the former president of CNN and MSNBC and the former senior vice president of ABC News, was a young producer when he worked with Ms. Chase on ABC’s “Primetime Live,” which he created and produced, and on one of his first network pieces at CBS.
“I was a huge fan of Sylvia,” Kaplan said in an interview. “She was hardworking and creative and fair-minded. If everyone were like Sylvia, the world would be a better place.”
Kaplan said Ms. Chase was generous with her ideas, advice and time.
“She gave me a helping hand up,” he said. “If I had a series of choices to make, she was always a great sounding board. She was the ultimate colleague.”
Former KRON marketing director Bruce Lindgren of Tiburon, who now has his own media consulting company, also worked with Ms. Chase at KRON in the 1980s.
“She was probably one of the most outstanding journalists — print, broadcast or digital — that graced the Bay Area,” he said.
“Once, when we were writing a promo for the news operation, I asked her, ‘What’s the thing you always wanted to do as a journalist?’”
He said Ms. Chase replied, “I’ve always wanted to walk into the Oval Office and ask the president, ‘Why did you do that?’”
Ms. Chase moved to Belvedere in 2001 and lived in an apartment on the Beach Road waterfront that boasted an eye-catching view of the San Francisco skyline. In 2016, she began volunteering for the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society as a docent at the China Cabin, just a few doors down from her apartment.
She had a much longer volunteer commitment to De Marillac Academy, an independent Catholic school in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
Ms. Chase was married briefly near the end of her college career. She and her ex-husband, Robert Rosenstone, and his second wife were friendly and kept in contact over the years, her family said.
She is survived by four nephews, J.D. Brill of Huntington Beach, Thomas Chase of Carlsbad, David Chase of Newport Beach and Steven Chase of Orange; and a niece, Linda Rogers of Newport Beach.
At her request, no services will be held. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Sylvia Chase Scholarship Fund, De Marillac Academy, c/o Development Office, 175 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94012.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.