Jessica Savitch (Part One?)

I watched Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story, starring Sela Ward, tonight. During commercial breaks, I Googled Jessica Savitch. To my surprise — and major disappointment — there’s not really any website devoted to this groundbreaking woman who earned four Emmys, an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, and election to the board of trustees at Ithaca College.

If you start at Wikipedia (and I never trust Wiki completely, so please only let it be a starting place), the entry on the anchorwoman pretty much follows the made for TV movie. The Accuracy Project has basic bio info, but leaves a lot to be desired as it really only presents corrections, and a handful of them at that. And there’s this bio by Abigail Griffith (Spring 2008).

Reading all of those, there are odd discrepancies which mainly center on Donald Rollie Payne, a gynecologist in Washington, DC, who was Savitch’s last husband who committed suicide on August 1, 1981 by hanging himself in the basement of their home. Abigail Griffith says that Payne “committed suicide after becoming aware of a diagnosis of incurable cancer,” while Wiki says he was a “closet homosexual.” I don’t suppose that matters much to most of us, but I’m certain these things mattered to Savitch and possibly say a lot about her (continued) relationship choices.

For something that fills in more gaps, you can try this archived article from People magazine on Savitch’s death.

And in 1988, five years after her death, a Current Affair episode in which Savitch’s family calls Gwenda Blair’s book lies:

(Worth watching for so many reasons — we can discuss in the comments!)

But for my money, the most insightful piece about Jessica I found online was this article written by Maury Z. Levy when Savitch was still a broadcaster in Philadelphia.

Since her death, Jessica Savitch’s been inducted into The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame, and the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College hosts a Journalism Lecture Series in her honor as well as named an on-campus television studio in her honor. There should be some sort of official website in her honor.

I bet Jessica would have loved the Internet, even if it/we would have had a field day of speculation and fun at her expense with the gaffes (largely exaggerated in the movie and historical footnotes) made on her last broadcast — just 20 days before her death. So someone, give her her due.


  1. I watched the overly dramatic and inaccurate lifetime movie and I have been irritated every since. I remember Jessica Savitch and how we were all excited for her to break the glass ceiling of broadcast journalism. More than that, Jessica was “one of us”, and her struggle was our struggle. More than a broadcaster, Jessica was someone we felt we all knew. Our hearts hung on her triumphs and tragedy. Our hearts broke when she passed.

    Revisiting old emotions is never easy, but watching this video of Jessica alleged errors and seeing how insignificant and imperceptible the verbal errors were, one wonders why such a big deal was made of this? The also exaggerated scene of Jessica’s anger (actually filmed while off air: what a bunch of vultures!) presents a stark example of where the movie presents a person Jessica was not. Watching the actual tape of this now infamous last broadcasts, has me hurting inside for Jessica. How dare they? Or did they have to stretch the truth just to get the movie made?

    I want to believe that someone, somewhere, will do this wonderful woman justice: posthumous honor for her ground breaking work on rape and her presence as a woman in an industry then dominated by men for starters. I am sure there are many more honors she deserves.

    I too wish Jessica were with us today to comment and share in this new world of internet. Like other loved ones I have lost, I miss Jessica. Jessica was a phenomenon, and I am certain her next career move would have dazzled us as much as her first.

  2. I use to watch Jessica Savitch on NBC news and I just loved her to watch her. I still remember watching her reporting the Jonestown massacre. She didnt have anything to read from. They had just got the news about Jonestown. But she did a good job.
    I was only 12 back then and I loved watching the NBC news …if she was the anchor lol.
    Today if you type her name in the google search engine the first thing you usally find are those 2 stupid videos…one where she was angry at the staff and they recorded her yelling at them and the other video of her slurring her words.
    She was a wonderful woman. I wish I could have met her!

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