LOS ANGELES – Lew Wood, who marched with Martin Luther King, covered John F. Kennedy’s assassination and was a news anchor for NBC’s “Today” show during a distinguished broadcast career that began with the dawn of television, has died at age 84.
Wood, who had been in declining health, died of kidney failure Wednesday at a hospice in Riverside County, his daughter Brigitte Wood told the Associated Press.
He was perhaps best known as “Today’s” third news anchor, succeeding Frank Blair in 1975. Although Blair had held the job for 22 years, Wood left after just a year, going into public relations. He stayed in that field until retiring in 2006.
“He always joked that when he left the `Today’ show, it was due to illness and fatigue. They were sick and tired of him,” his daughter said with a laugh Thursday.
With the show’s producers deciding to take the program’s news report in a different direction, Wood moved on to public relations, training corporate executives how to present themselves to the media and working for the American Legion and other organizations.
Before taking the “Today” show job, he had anchored the news for WNBC in New York and worked as a correspondent for CBS.
For the latter network he reported on the 1960s Civil Rights movement, accompanying King on one of his marches. He was also in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, as part of the CBS team covering Kennedy’s campaign swing through Texas.
Wood had covered a breakfast speech Kennedy made in nearby Fort Worth, and snapped a personal photo of the president greeting well-wishers before Kennedy left for the Dallas motorcade where he would be fatally shot. After his departure, Wood headed to a restaurant for lunch, stopping briefly to check in with fellow correspondent Dan Rather, who was covering the motorcade.
In a remembrance posted on the website reportersnotebook.net, he recalled Rather telling him, “Hold On Lew – don’t go away,” then quickly coming back on the line to say the president had been shot and he should go to the hospital.
“Which he did,” said Rather, who spoke warmly of Wood on Thursday, remembering him as both a fine reporter and collegial colleague.
“He was a workhorse, very steady and reliable, excellent reporter and had good on-camera presence,” Rather told the AP.
Wood, who earned a degree in speech and broadcasting from Purdue University, began his career in radio at WDZ-AM in Decatur, Ill., in 1952. He transitioned to TV a year later, joining WSBT Radio and TV in South Bend, Ind., where he worked as both reporter and cameraman and anchored the evening news.
In addition to his daughter, Wood is survived by his wife, Monique; son Robert; two other daughters, Carole Gorenflo and Lara Wood; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service is scheduled Aug. 31 at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Temecula.