TOM ELLIS: A TRIBUTE by George K. Regan, Jr.

Tom Ellis was a pillar in the media community. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In celebration of his life, we are hosting “Tom Ellis, A Tribute,” tomorrow at The Seaport Hotel, Plaza Ballroom from 2-4 pm. I hope you can join us in memorializing the man, the legend, and our dear friend, Tom Ellis.

Tom Ellis, A Tribute

Tom Ellis, a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame, lived the great American life – from working as a young roughneck in the Texas oil fields in the early 1950’s to recording one of President John F. Kennedy’s final television interviews, to the decades spent as a leading television news anchor in both Boston and New York City. Thomas Caswell Ellis died on April 29, 2019, at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.

Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in the Big Thicket area of East Texas, where hard work was valued and money was hard to come by. Ellis was put to work at the age of 13 in the construction trades in Carthage, Texas. While he enjoyed physical labor, Ellis loved the spotlight of theater and entertainment and found side jobs as a professional actor and a carnival barker in his teens.

During the Korean War, Ellis served as a cryptographer in the U.S Navy’s Security Service in Washington, DC. He graduated with honors from Arlington State College in 1955 and from the University of Texas in 1958.

His handsome appearance and commanding voice soon caught the attention of a small radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was hired as a staff announcer for 50 cents per hour. Ellis then moved to San Antonio, where he broke into television news in as an anchor-reporter where he earned several awards for his reporting from the Associated Press and UPI.

He was among the local Texas reporters dispatched to Dallas, where he landed a brief interview with President John F. Kennedy on the day before he was assassinated. In 1968, Ellis moved to Boston after he was hired as a lead anchor for WBZ-TV where he covered major stories, including student protests against the war in Vietnam and the Chappaquiddick tragedy involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ellis was lured away from Boston to New York City in 1975 to anchor the prime time news on WABC-TV where he earned New York Newscaster of the Year honors as well as the top ratings in the market. Also during this time, Ellis made a return to acting and landed a role in the big screen thriller Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. He played, of all things, an anchorman. Other movie roles would follow.

Ellis returned to Boston three years later to join the anchor team at Channel 5 that included Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. During his tenure there, Ellis hosted a Peabody Award-winning documentary called Fed up. He then moved to WNEV-TV (now WHDH) where he co-anchored newscasts from 1982 to 1987.

Ellis’ career is distinguished also by the fact that he is the only journalist to have anchored top-rated newscasts at each of Boston’s network affiliates in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, Tom Ellis became one of the first television anchors for NECN (New England Cable News) where he continued to cover major world events close to home, such as 9/11 and the plane crash that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. Tom Ellis anchored his last newscast in 2008.

Longtime friend George K. Regan, Jr remembered Ellis this way: “Tom Ellis was not just a great journalist, he was a great human being. I got to know Tom while working as the press secretary for Mayor Kevin White. My respect for him as a newsman grew from day one and we later became the closest of friends. Tom Ellis was family to me. There wasn’t a holiday or special event we didn’t spend time together or simply reach out to talk. My thoughts are with Tom’s lovely wife Arlene. I will miss my dear friend, ” Regan said.

He loved living on Cape Cod, surrounded by nature and also giving back to his community. He was also deeply involved with various charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He had also served as Chairman of the United Way of Cape Cod. He predeceased by his mother, Mary Eunice Ellis, father Herbert Caswell Ellis, and sister Mary Grimes Ellis.

Tom Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene (Rubin) Ellis of East Sandwich, Massachusetts, Arlene’s sister Debbie Berger and her husband Michael of Newton, Ma., daughter Terri Susan Ellis of Freedom, CA., daughter Kathy Denise Cornett and husband Randy Cornett of Hamilton, OH, and son Thomas Christopher Ellis and wife Beverly Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellis also leaves behind five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

All the best,
George

George K. Regan Jr., Chairman
Regan Communications Group

THE MOST TRUSTED MAN IN AMERICA

“And that’s the way it is” by Rich Paschall


With so many bad sources of news in the world, who do you trust to give you reliable and up to date information?  I know it is tough to decide.  At one time there was radio, television, newspapers and your grandma’s gossip across the back fence.  You may also have had a few barroom buddies who seemed to be pretty up to date on the happenings in the nation and even the world.  Now that there are so many more options, how do you know who to trust and what to believe?

Perhaps you still rely on Aunt Mildred.  She always seems to be well read and has a tidbit of news on everything.  When she shows up at family gatherings she can easily dazzle those who would sit down to listen.  She always shows up early to the parties and is willing to stay until the very end, as long as there are snacks and highballs around.  Her whisky fueled news items show the great recall she has from the supermarket publications she gets regularly.  Sometimes she also gets the Sunday papers, but that is more for the store coupons than the news.

Then there is cousin Billy, also a regular at the family gatherings.  He tries not to get into arguments with Aunt Mildred because her vocabulary is better than his.  However, you just know he is right about his views of America.  His sources may seem a bit murky, but if you can not trust someone you practically grew up with, who can you trust?

cronkite-395Your nephew Chad is probably much more up to date than the others because he is on social media all the time, reading up on the environment, politics and his favorite rock bands.  He often shows you those clever memes that contain some of the best quotes for your education on the latest issues.  If you mention a topic, Chad can find a meme, video or highly respected blog that will educate you on what you need to know.  At least the blogs are highly respected by Chad, and you respect Chad, don’t you? (Chad respects this blog.)

When I was younger (much younger) and staying with my grandparents, dinner had to be finished by 5:30 PM so that my grandfather could get to his favorite chair.  We lived in the Central Time Zone and the CBS Evening news came on early.  It was OK because it fit right into their retirement schedule.  My grandparents had been farmers and were use to early breakfast and lunch, so 5 PM dinner did not seem too early.  Their main source of news was a Monday through Friday evening broadcast.

It was not just that it was a news program.  There were others at that time.  He could have watched the venerable team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.  He could have tuned to Howard K Smith and Harry Reasoner.  But my grandfather only followed the man who came to be known as the most trusted man in America.  Many years of strong and steady broadcasts of news events had led one man to the top of his field.

Solid reporting
Solid reporting

Walter Cronkite Jr. was a broadcast journalist who started his career in 1937 covering major news events around the globe.  Later he covered NASA and brought us all the early successes and some failures of the space program.  You could rely on Walter to describe the event and educate you on space all at the same time.  It was the facts that he brought to a broadcast, not the spin.

In 1962 he became the anchorman of the CBS Evening News and the main face of the news division.  If there was an important story, Walter told us about it.  With a confident and authoritative tone and a grandfatherly face, people came to trust him with the news.  In fact as his tenure on the evening news went on, polls began to show that it was not a politician or entertainer that people trusted most, it was Walter.

In 1963 I recall watching Walter as he told us all about the assassination of President Kennedy and the events that followed.  No I did not see the earliest broadcasts live, I was in grade school.  But I did see all that followed.  I have seen the early footage many times since in documentaries, as Walter had to tell a nation that the President was dead.  To this day that broadcast will evoke tears.

"President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time."
“President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.”

Walter advised us of what was going on in Viet Nam.  Did it help turn a nation against the war?  Walter told us about Watergate extensively.  Did it help lead to the downfall of a President?  If he influenced public opinion, it was not because he twisted the facts or spun their meaning, it was because he reported them.

After 19 years, Walter Cronkite retired from the CBS Evening News.  CBS had a mandatory retirement age of 65 then.  Today they would probably let him go on as long as ratings were good.  He lived to be 92 and remained active for many years after “retirement.”

Are there any broadcasters today that enjoy the trust of American people like Walter Leland Cronkite Jr.?  Yes, I know the answer to that.  Everyone seems to be interpreting rather than just reporting.  They all appear to have a point of view and we may trust them about as much as we trust Aunt Mildred.  Of course, there are a few that trust Aunt Mildred a lot, “and that’s the way it is.”

Daily Prompt: Four Stars — Remembering the Garry Armstrong Show

For 31 years, there was a continuing series on Channel 7 in Boston. It was my favorite show and I watched it faithfully. It was on several times each day. The first performance often aired during the pre-dawn hours. The final day’s  episode might air long after most people had finished dinner and many had gone to bed.

It was an excellent series. Watching it kept me informed about events taking place in my neighborhood, the city and the region. What was especially nifty was I how close I was to the star, though it was sometimes difficult to reconcile the handsome star of the series to the exhausted, crabby guy who finally came home expecting dinner. As a faithful viewer, I never had to ask how the star’s day had gone. I knew. I had seen his day. I usually taped the episodes so we could review it at leisure.

Garry with Tip O'Neill
Garry with Tip O’Neill

Thus I watched my husband on TV every day and it was — for us — normal. It came with some perks: invitations to snazzy events that sometimes appeared in newspaper gossip columns. It was funny reading about us as if we were real celebrities. I suppose, by some standards, he was. I was just the celebrity’s wife, but even reflected glory is rather glorious. Although we rarely got the opportunity to have dinner in a restaurant without being interrupted by fans, mostly, it was a nice thing. Garry was recognized and loved by people who thought of him as a friend. After all, he came into their homes every day. Many viewers had been watching him since they were kids, so he felt like a familiar family member.

That’s what he did for a living. So did so many of our friends so I didn’t think about it much. It was our life. I had a ritual. As soon as I got in from work, I turned on the news. I kept a tape in the VCR, so when Garry came on, I was ready.  This was the only way he was able to see how his stories looked because he didn’t see the finished piece at work.

He covered or was involved with virtually every important event in New England for 31 years. I wish I had more to show you, but the tapes I made disintegrated over time.

Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard
Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

Most of Garry’s career was pre-Internet.  No Facebook, no Google. We have one of his three Emmy awards on top of the television, but no tape except this one piece I found. It’s not a major story, but it’s something. Garry’s segment appears at about 1 minute and 30 seconds into the noon news. You can fast forward and skip the intro or choose to watch from the top of the show.

That was a “live shot.”

Time passes. It’s good to have something tangible to remember the show, though lucky me, I still have the star by my side.

On September 12, 2013, Garry Armstrong will be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame. It’s quite an honor and I’ll be proud to be there with him.

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