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Former ABC7 journalist John Drury dies at 80

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

John Drury, one of Chicago's most respected and beloved journalists, has died at his home in Wheaton, Illinois, from complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS disease. He was 80-years old. Before his retirement from ABC7 Chicago in 2002, Drury anchored the top-rated 10:00 p.m. newscast for 16 years, becoming a fixture in Chicago broadcasting during an iconic career that spanned four decades here.

According to ABC7 President and General Manager, Emily Barr, "John was the consummate journalist - driven, passionate about telling the truth and of course, a great communicator. Throughout his 50-year career, viewers trusted him to deliver the news with fairness and accuracy and he never let them down. He was a wonderful, caring man who conducted himself with grace, loved to laugh and always made others feel at ease. All of us who worked with him are richer for having had the opportunity to be his colleague and his friend. We miss him and wish his devoted wife Ann and his family peace."

John's family released the following statement: "John passed away peacefully this evening at his home surrounded by his family. Not only did he fight ALS, he gave back to the community by raising awreness to this disease. We want to thank everyone who has supported John throughout his career and throughout his battle with ALS."

Born in Peoria, Illinois, on January 4, 1927, Drury was the youngest of fours sons. He grew up during the Depression, in Aurora, Illinois and learned about great storytelling when the family gathered around the radio to listen to Edward R. Murrow. He left West Aurora High School early to enlist in the Navy during World War II. When he returned home from the war he got his first job in radio at a community college and then as a student at the University of Iowa.

John Drury signs off for last time on ABC7

Drury's first television job was in Indianapolis in 1953. In 1955, he was hired as a staff announcer at WTMJ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By the time he left the station in 1962, he had done everything from anchoring a newscast to reading the Sunday comics on air.

Having always set his sights on Chicago, Drury pursued his dream in the Windy City and landed another staff announcer job at WBBM-TV in 1962. After substituting for anchor Fahey Flynn on several occasions, Drury's on-air talent was recognized, and in six months, he transitioned from the announcer's booth to the newsroom. He became Fahey Flynn's first co-anchor and remained at the station until 1967.

From 1967-70, Drury served his first stint at WGN-TV in the role of 10:00 p.m. anchor.

In 1970, he made his debut at WLS-TV as a 5:00 P.M. news anchor, garnering critical praise for his credible approach to local news reporting and winning awards for his work. Drury became a part of the station's legendary "Eyewitness News Team" that featured such memorable names in Chicago broadcasting history as Fahey Flynn, Joel Daly, Bill Frink and John Coleman. While at WLS-TV, he also did double duty in New York as an anchor for the ABC Network's Weekend News. In 1979, Drury left for a second stint at WGN-TV, anchoring the 9:00 p.m. newscast and again receiving honors for his work, particularly his investigative reporting.

John Drury remembered by colleagues

Drury returned to ABC 7 in 1984 where he would go on to sustain remarkable success "as the most watched anchor in Chicago television history," according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. In 1986, with the renewed credibility Drury brought to the station, the 10 p.m. newscast he anchored for 16 years until his retirement on March 1, 2002, never faltered from its #1 position.

ABC 7 colleague and friend Kathy Brock said, "'Gracious gentleman' are two words that personify John Drury. He took his job seriously but not himself, John's hearty laugh was infectious. He was a man of boundless curiosity and talents."

Throughout his career, Drury's work was lauded. In 2000, he was saluted by the Museum of Broadcast Communications for his valuable contributions to broadcast history. Also in 2000, the Chicago Advertising Club named Drury "Man of the Year." In 1996, Drury's peers in Chicago journalism named him to the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. That same year, he was also awarded the prestigious Silver Circle Award for 25 years of broadcasting excellence in Chicago. In 1989, Drury received the Better Government Association's Distinguished Journalism Award. He received Chicago Emmy awards for Individual Excellence in 1983, 1987 and 1988. He was named "Father of the Year" in 1983.

For most of his life, Drury enjoyed honing his skills as an amateur magician. In addition to his family, his other passion was as a collector. He especially enjoyed collecting vintage A.C. Gilbert toys, like the Erector Set.

During an ABC 7 190 North special, honoring the anchorman before his retirement, Drury talked about some of his most memorable stories, including his investigation with longtime producer Alex Burkholder, of a mother's claim that her son had been wrongly convicted of murder. The result of their investigation exonerated the son and led to his release from prison. Drury described this as a very "satisfying" moment in his career. Drury also recalled the story that took him 400 feet below the Atlantic Ocean on a nuclear submarine, his report covering the only nighttime launch in the Apollo series and his many hard-hitting investigations that unearthed corruption.

Alex Burkholder, ABC 7 writer/producer, who worked with Drury for much of his career said, "John was a great man, a great journalist and a great person to work with. More than just an anchorman, he did it all and felt tremendous pride in the substantial body of investigative work he amassed during his career. John took the 10:00 p.m. news to the top of the heap, and I believe we're still benefiting today from the equity he built then. He will be missed."

When Drury was once asked what he thought contributed to his longevity and success he said, "I think I've been honest, . . . and never underestimated the audience. I think growing up during the depression gave me a sense of humility that perhaps all generations do not have. I've worked hard at this job, very hard and I've enjoyed it. It's been nothing but joy for me on the air."

Drury's final newscast on ABC7 Chicago was on March 1, 2002. He was diagnosed with ALS after retiring. He is survived by Ann, his wife of 19 years, his four children as well as 10 grandchildren/ His first wife Marjorie Drury died in 1987.

John Drury's Charity Work

John went public with his battle against ALS to help raise awareness about the disease and help raise money toward finding a cure. That very public fight yielded important results for many charities.

"I can recall watching him on Chicago television and think how easy he was on the air, When I worked with him, I was able to see how, firsthand, how kind and generous he was," said ABC7 reporter Theresa Gutierrez. "He never felt threatened and embraced other reporters. He was a man comfortable in his own skin. Not only was he matinee handsome, but beautiful on the inside."

He helped raise money for the Les Turner ALS Foundation and helped with technology to help him communicate with his family.

"I saw him on Wednesday," said Steve Wells, Les Turner ALS Foundation. "He was mentally sharp as a tack, looking forward to being with his family on Thanksgiving, all smiles about that."

Wells says that although John Drury was mentally alert but paralyzed with this devastating disease, he and his wife, Ann, worked closely with a number of non for profits to raise money for ALS research.

"They raised funds to help fight this disease& to raise awareness about this disease. Talk about courage," said Wells.

"More importantly was spreading the word that he was not taking a back seat and he wanted to fight this disease anyway that he can," said Wendy Abrams, executive director, Les Turner ALS Foundation.

John allowed the foundation to come into his family and into his home and record public service messages. He helped raise money at a number of events.

"He knew he could not save himself, but that was not the prime reason why he was getting involved. He wanted to be involved so that others would not have to go through this," said Abrams.

Another organization John was involved with was the Brain Research Foundation.

"By letting people see what this disease could do and also through funding, people called in with donations, viewers who watched him for 40 years," said Terre Sharma of the Brain Research Foundation.

John and his family lent their name to a Brain Research Foundation benefit. John was an avid collector of trains, erector sets and magic kits. They were auctioned off to raise money.

"He and his family were determined to make a difference. Through our foundation, we were able to raise over $350,000 for research," said Sharma.

Services for John Drury will be held Friday at 2 p.m. at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

Contributions honoring John's memory

Memorial gifts in honor of John Drury

The family would appreciate if, in lieu of flowers, contributions honoring John's memory could be sent to one of the following:

John and Ann Drury Endowed Fund for HomeCare Physicians
Central DuPage Health Foundation
27W353 Jewell Rd.
Winfield,IL 60190
630-933-6644
www.cdhealthfoundation.org

Brain Research Foundation
111 West Washington St
Suite 1710
Chicago, IL 60602
312-759-5150
www.brainresearchfoundation.org

Muscular Dystrophy Association/ALS Division
1020 W. 31st Street
Suite 310
Downers Grove, IL 60515
630-960-1500

Les Turner ALS Foundation
5550 W. Touhy Avenue #302
Skokie, IL 60077
847-679-3711
www.lesturnerals.org

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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