“It’s the world news roundup! Major news developments with on-the-scene reports direct from the worldwide staff of NBC News. Good morning, this is Russ Ward, in the NBC newsroom in Washington!”
In an interview, Mr. Ward explained that he probably intoned those words into a microphone 50,000 times during his more than three-decade career with NBC News in its Washington bureau. “After saying that for 50,000 times, it was pretty easy to remember,” he said.
“Russ was one of the great radio voices,” Cal Thomas, a former NBC reporter and syndicated columnist who got know Mr. Ward when he worked in the network’s Washington bureau, said in a telephone interview.
“I was a copy boy from 1961 to 1965, and it was a great entry-level job in those days,” said Mr. Thomas, who later was an NBC reporter from 1969 to 1973. “I worked with Huntley and Brinkley, Robert McCormick, Peter Hackes, Eli Abel, Sander Vanocur and Jack Perkins, who both died last year. It was a powerful life experience for me. And now Russ, who was the last of the greats. ”
Mr. Thomas recalled watching Mr. Ward when he was on the air delivering what was then a 15-minute newscast.
“I would stand by the studio glass and watch him work. I wanted to be like him, and thought if I stood there, his skills would transfer to me. Russ always said, ‘I was there just in case he keeled over and then would rush in and take over his show,’ ” he said, with a laugh.
Veteran NBC weatherman Willard Scott, in an email to Mr. Ward’s family, described him as “the greatest voice since Lowell Thomas,” adding that “no one could touch his reporting.”
Mr. Ward, a former longtime Edgewater resident who moved to Bradenton, Florida, in 2014, died at his home there Nov. 24 from cancer. He was 93.
Russell Hunter Ward, son of Allen Hunter Ward, and his wife, Alice Ward, federal government workers, was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he graduated from Chattanooga High School, sometime referred to as City High School, family members said.
He fell under the spell of radio as a kid growing up in the 1930s despite his parents calling it a “waste of time.” An early influence was Dave Garroway, who worked for Pittsburgh’s KDKA and later WMAQ in Chicago, where he was a disc jockey.
The urbane Mr. Garroway, whose image was heightened by his famous round tortoise shell glasses, later was anchor of NBC’s “Today” show from 1952 to 1961.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Ward earned a bachelor’s degree in speech on the GI Bill from Northwestern University.
“He actually wanted to be an actor and had a beautiful voice. It became his calling card,” said a daughter, Allison Ward Moore of Sarasota, Florida.
Mr. Ward began his career with NBC as a news writer for WRC in Washington in 1953.
“For 34 years beginning in 1953, Russ Ward went globe trotting on NBC’s dime, whether as the radio pool reporter for the Apollo 7 splashdown in the Pacific or training President Nixon’s entourage for a summit in Moscow. But no two white-knuckle events were the same,” reported the Daily Commercial, a Leesburg, Florida, newspaper in 2019.
“Because most of them came from newspapers, they banged out their own stuff. They all wrote their own stuff,” Mr. Thomas said. "I used to file the scripts but would read them first. They were my first classroom."
During his reporting years, Mr. Ward covered the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, and was present in 1975 when two would-be assassins, Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme, were unsuccessful in their attempts to kill President Gerald R. Ford.
He covered NASA missions and then after leaving the presidential beat became the Senate reporter after President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated.
“Russ and I worked side by side, morning, noon and night in a cramped White House press booth during Nixon’s last year, sharing tips and gossip, stale sandwiches and cold coffee,” former anchorman Tom Brokaw told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2019. “He was the ultimate pro, filing pitch-perfect radio updates every hour with a photo of his beloved sailboat above his microphone. ... I’ve never worked with a better pro — or friend.”
“We are no longer talking to casual listeners, but to to people who have a knowledge of politics. .... Nowadays, our audience wants fast and accurate reporting,” Mr. Ward said in a 1969 NBC promotional advertisement.
He spent the last 13 years of his career until retiring in 1987 covering the Senate, a less than desirable beat, he said, because of the tedious legislative process and the outsize egos of senators.
He took a buyout after General Electric acquired RCA, the parent company of NBC, which then sold the NBC Radio Network to Westwood 1.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
In addition to the changing climate of Capitol Hill politics, Mr. Ward was increasingly put off by the editorialization of the news by reporters.
“I tried to avoid being opinionated, and I’d like to think I escaped opinions,” he explained in the Sarasota newspaper interview. “I suspect opinions did slip in, depending on which adverbs you used, for example. That could change the tone of a sentence.”
He moved to Edgewater, where he enjoyed sailing the Windward, his 48-foot cutter as far north as Nova Scotia and southward to the Caribbean and Mexico. When he moved to Bradenton, he took the Windward with him and made two voyages aboard the vessel to Havana.
Mr. Ward’s wife of 45 years, the former Silvia Barbara Carnazza, died in 2000.
A celebration of life gathering in May is private.