John Hambrick, a former TV newscaster who was invited into millions of homes in major cities across the country, has succumbed to cancer. He died September 10th in hospice care at Scott & White Hospital Round Rock, TX.
Hambrick anchored newscasts on WNBC in New York, KABC in Los Angeles, KRON in San Francisco, WTVJ and WCIX in Miami, KHOU in Houston, WEWS in Cleveland, and WCPO in Cincinnati. He was killed by the lung cancer that had been diagnosed in 2012 and had metastasized to his brain.
John Hambrick's TV news career spanned the years from the early 1960s to the 1990s. His younger brothers Judd and Mike followed in his footsteps and at one time all three were anchoring newscasts in major markets. He once said his greatest success was at WEWS in Cleveland, a station whose newscasts were a distant third in local ratings when he began there in 1967.
When he left in 1975 the news ratings were in first place.
Hambrick was succeeded on the WEWS anchor desk by Ted Henry, joining incumbent Dave Patterson. Henry, several years younger than Hambrick, is now also retired. He spoke glowingly of the older man: "John was a friend, a colleague and a mentor. He always had a word for me about how I could improve my skills. I learned enormously from him."
Some of the most important events Hambrick covered during his career of over 30 years include a visit with Pope John Paul II in 1987 and urban riots in Cleveland and in Cincinnati. In the latter, he and his cameraman were badly beaten by an angry mob, which also smashed their gear and news car.
He was always interested in politics and covered multiple presidential nominating conventions of both parties. He greatly admired Sen. Robert Kennedy, even though they didn't share political philosophies. Hambrick was anchoring local news in New York in March, 1981 when President Reagan was shot and he immediately flew to Washington to report live from the scene of that assassination attempt. He enjoyed getting away from his anchor desk to cover not only breaking news but in-depth background stories as well, such as he did on a 10-day trip to Israel.
An earlier highlight was a trip to Wounded Knee, SD where Native Americans took over the town, forcing a 73-day standoff with U.S. government lawmen. Government forces had the town blocked off, so Hambrick and his cameraman hid their rental car and hiked cross-country to interview the protestors.
While anchoring at WEWS in Cleveland in the 1970s, he spent many weekends in Nashville where he wrote and recorded a critically acclaimed record album, Windmill in a Jet-Filled Sky. He also wrote and recorded a number of other songs that have not been released.
Hambrick studied at the University of Texas and California State College at Los Angeles planning to be a teacher. But he was bitten by the acting bug and spent several years in Hollywood where he had supporting roles in various movies as well as parts in TV shows such as Playhouse 90 and General Electric Theater.
But roles were scarce and he had a young family to support, so he joined the Olivetti typewriter company as a salesman in Dallas. He toted a heavy typewriter from business to business, demonstrating the machine to potential purchasers. One autumn day in 1963 he visited the Carousel Lounge, a second-rate strip club, and asked to speak to the owner. He found Jack Ruby sitting in a booth eating ice cream. Ruby became infamous a few weeks later when he shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
Soon after, an Olivetti customer told Hambrick he was obviously intelligent, good-looking and well-spoken and might have a future in TV news. This client had a good friend who was an executive at Dallas TV station WFAA and arranged an interview for him. That went well, but the executive told Hambrick he had to get experience in a much smaller town than Dallas, and set up an audition at a station in Wichita Falls. He landed his first TV news job there, but a station in Abilene soon called and the entire Hambrick family was off on their city-to-city lifestyle.
Often they would be in a city for several years, but would move a time or two while there. John's wife Barbara recently said they moved so often she became an expert at packing and unpacking and setting up housekeeping in a new home. But she joked, "I sometimes think we should have bought a moving van and left it in the driveway as many people do with campers and motor homes!"
Daughter Mignon said moving was difficult for her and her sister Meredith and brother Jack because they had to leave their friends but they always made new ones in their new towns.
"I'm in touch with friends all over the country," Mignon said. "I've been invited to reunions at three different high schools, even though I attended one of them only through sixth grade!"
John Hambrick and Barbara Watson began dating their junior year at Talco High School, Talco TX. They had been married 51 years at the time of his death.
John was involved with a variety of charities and other good causes in every community he served as a broadcast journalist. In Ohio, he chaired the American Cancer Society statewide campaign after his mother was killed by that disease.
He was honored with many professional awards over the years, including an EMMY for anchoring the best newscast in New York and two additional EMMYs in Miami.
Alan Perris, who is now Chief Operating Officer of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization which awards national EMMYs, was the general manager of WTVJ in Miami in 1985 and had to replace a retiring anchor. "I told my news director to find us another John Hambrick," he said. "A week later the news director said he had found someone just like John Hambrick. I asked what his name was.
"John Hambrick himself! was the response. John had just left a station in New York but quickly joined us in Miami."
Perris described Hambrick as a great story teller and a fun guy to be around. "And he was the consummate professional," Perris said. "Many news anchors are just readers, but John personally worked on his scripts for hours before airtime."
Decades later, after retiring from the grind of daily journalism, Hambrick was involved in a number of interesting projects, including a PBS documentary he co-produced with his son Jack. The Highwaymen: Florida's Outsider Artists is about a group of pioneering African-American artists.
Hambrick continued his acting career on and off until the final months of his life, with roles in films such as Mia's Father, Wonderful World, Kings of the Evening and Guilty. He also appeared in the pilot for the popular and critically acclaimed TV drama series Friday Night Lights. Over the years he maintained his membership in the Screen Actors Guild and proudly cast his vote ever year in the competition for the coveted Oscar awards.
When he died, he was finishing the script for a screenplay he was co-writing with former Cleveland TV news colleague Lee Bailey. Thunderbolt Raiders (www.thunderboltraiders.com
) is loosely based on the life and times of Civil War Gen. John Hunt Morgan. But Hambrick insisted this is not just a "shoot 'em up", but a character study of how personalities can evolve over the years.
"John and I began working on our script three years ago and we became closer than when we worked together," Bailey said. "Despite the fact he was in Texas and I in Ohio we were a team and we talked or e-mailed almost every day. I don't look forward to completing the last few scenes by myself."
Friends and family say Hambrick faced his death as his mother did, with Courage, Dignity and Grace. Those three words are the title of one of the songs on Windmill in a Jet-Filled Sky, written in her memory. Son Jack Hambrick said his Dad had all three of those traits when he learned his death was near. "He always asked serious, probing questions of the doctors, telling them not to sugarcoat anything," Jack said.
John Hambrick leaves these close relatives: Wife Barbara (Watson); daughter Mignon (husband Dave) Young and their sons Parker, Aidan and Jackson of Round Rock, TX; daughter Meredith (husband Mike) Hamel of Hollywood, FL; son Jack of Austin, TX; brother Judd (wife Donna) of Saltillo, MS and their child Paige (husband Tim) and their children Kelly, Mary Claire, Brock and Mignon Caroline, and brother Mike (wife June) of Bluemont, VA and their children Dallas (husband Travis) Hitt, Jake and Alexandra.
Graveside services will be held at the Lone Oak Cemetery in Lone Oak, TX. Date of service and memorial have not been set. In lieu of flowers, friends may donate to the Lone Oak Cemetery Association, PO Box 494, Lone Oak, TX 75453.
Arrangements by Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home, 2900 Williams Drive, Georgetown, Texas 78628 (512)863-2564.