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Legendary Broadcaster Merri Dee, Dead at 85

Legendary journalist and 2008 Chicago Defender Women of Excellence honoree Merri Dee passed away at 85. She worked as a journalist and anchor for WGN TV for over 40 years. A graduate of Englewood High School and Columbia College (formerly known as Midwestern Broadcasting School), she was more than an incredible journalist and media personality; she was a survivor and advocate.

In the early stages of her career, she was kidnapped, shot, and left for dead after leaving a television studio with one of her guests. She was shot twice in the head but managed to flag help. She spoke of the life-altering incident in her 2013 memoir, “Life Lessons on Faith, Forgiveness, and Grace,” saying, “A life-changing moment takes practically all of your emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical reserves to survive. It is a moment that forces you to determine what you will or will not accept and makes you choose how you will respond”.

She returned to television, joining WGN as one of the first black anchors in a large metropolitan city. Her experiences with violent crimes also pushed her towards advocacy. She was influential with politicians in drafting the Victims Bill of Rights.

She remained a fixture with WGN until her retirement in 2008. At the time of her retirement, she was the Director of Community Relations at WGN.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “Amy and I are deeply saddened to learn of Merri Dee’s passing. Merri Dee was a homegrown broadcasting legend whose time as an anchor and radio and talk show host made her a beloved local celebrity. In addition to her television and radio work, she also made a huge impact on communities across our city and state through a number of philanthropic pursuits that reflected her passion for protecting vulnerable individuals such as children in need of adoptive homes. Merri Dee has truly made a positive and indelible mark on our city and inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps. We offer our deepest condolences to her loved ones during this difficult time.”

In a statement, her colleagues at WGN TV said, “Chicago’s Very Own, Merri Dee, was a one-of-a-kind legend. From WGN staff announcer to hosting parade telecasts, telethons, and even the Illinois Lottery drawings, she was synonymous with WGN-TV. She was groundbreaking in the broadcasting field and an inspiration to several generations of young women. Among her greatest legacies as Director of Community Relations, she spoke at thousands of events. She helped raise over 30 million dollars for WGN-TV Children’s Charities, benefitting various organizations throughout Chicagoland. Merri Dee was a pioneer who will be greatly missed.”

​Tributes to the legendary broadcaster flooded social media and websites.

“As a young girl growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Merri Dee was one of my TV role models,” said NABJ President Dorothy Tucker. “Imagine my thrill when I attended Northwestern and lived down the hall from her daughter, Toya. The girls in the dorm always looked forward to Ms. Dee’s visits. She was full of energy, had a big beautiful smile, and dressed like a couture fashion model. Over the years, I remained awestruck by how she made everything she did look easy. I feel fortunate to have known Merri Dee. My sincere condolences to Toya and the rest of the Durham family.”

The family confirmed Merri Dee’s passing on her website, saying, “Merri Dee died peacefully in her sleep at home…as you can imagine, our family is simply heartbroken and asks for privacy at this time.

Arrangements and memorial details have not been announced at the time of publication.

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