Trailblazing woman worked at WGN-TV, WCIU, and WSNS
Longtime media personality Merri Dee – one of the first Black television personalities in Chicago, passed away at the age of 85 Wednesday. This is a tweet from her official account, posted the same day:
Merri loved connecting with people anywhere, everywhere — in-person, on-air, often in the airport, & always online. In recent weeks she was full of life – a photo shoot last Thursday followed by dinner at Le Colonial, weekend events… in 👠 @85. RIP 👑#LiveLifeWithPurpose 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/EGwjAIPcop— Honoring Merri Dee (@MerriDee1) March 17, 2022
Dee was best known for her voice over work for nearly two decades in the 1970s and 1980s at WGN-TV, and was also the director of community relations at the then-Tribune station. Dee also appeared as on-air host and model for the station’s Illinois Lottery drawings.
Dee was a Chicago native, born in 1936 and graduated from Englewood High School and later, the Midwest School of Broadcasting, the forerunner to Columbia College. Dee’s first broadcasting job came at radio station WBEE-AM in 1966 and jumped to television two years later as an on-air personality at WCIU.
By 1971, she landed her own talk show at then-startup WSNS-TV, The Merri Dee Show. One night after a show, Dee and her guest were kidnapped from right outside the station and driven to a forest preserve, where she and her guest were shot.
Dee battled back from her harrowing experience and made a triumphant return to Chicago television a year later as an anchor and reporter at WGN-TV, where she would call home for 36 amazing years in a variety of roles until she retired in 2008. During her time at WGN, she raised more than $30 million for children’s charities and appeared in station PSAs for adoption and For Kids’ Sake during the 1980s, an initiative started by Group W for its station group and later expanded throughout the country. She also was viable during WGN’s coverage of the Bud Billiken Parade when the station had rights. WGN’s status at a cable superstation also helped expose her presence throughout the country.
Dee stayed active after her retirement. She became a spokeswoman and president of the Illinois chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP. Dee also rallied for legislation protecting crime victims, which passed in Illinois and other states. She was also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and was inducted into Chicago’s Silver Circle in 1996.
On a personal note, I was proud of the fact that Merri Dee’s Twitter account followed T Dog Media. She was certainly the kind of person we need a lot more of in broadcasting – sweet, very gracious, and an all-around kind person. One who can serve as an inspiration to Black women – especially after what she battled through. She has left us, but her legacy will remain and never be forgotten.