In this week’s issue… New England remembers WBZ’s LaPierre, Maine’s Gleason – Talker Williams dies – Gray adds in the North Country – LI AM dispute now includes a sale – Forever’s new growth direction
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When Boston’s WBZ began to build a wall of Hall of Fame plaques outside its front door in 2007, there was never a moment of doubt about who’d be the first inductee. Gary LaPierre had just retired after a remarkable run of more than 40 years as WBZ’s morning news voice.
Along the way, he served as more than just the indelible voice of nearly a hundred thousand newscasts, thousands of snow day school closures and countless election nights and Marathon days. Behind the scenes, he was the conscience of the newsroom, teaching generations of newspeople how to write and deliver the news crisply, clearly and fairly.
Your editor was one of those newswriters in the early 1990s, as WBZ made its final turn from full-service to news. This is, therefore, not an easy story to write – but here’s how Gary would have wanted it written:
Gary LaPierre died Monday. (You didn’t write Gary copy that said someone had “passed away,” or worse yet, “been slain.” At least not more than once.)
Gary was, very proudly, a native of Shelburne Falls. He learned broadcasting at Grahm Junior College in Boston and worked in the mailroom at WBZ. After college, Gary moved quickly through several small-market newsrooms, from WHAV in Haverhill to WTSN in Dover and WKBR in Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE. (That’s Gary in 2016 at an event launching the latest LPFM version of WHAV.)
By 1964, he was back at WBZ as a reporter, his deep voice hiding the fact that he was just 22 years old. One of his first assignments was covering the Beatles’ arrival in town. By 1966, he was anchoring the newscasts during Carl deSuze’s morning show, and the rest, pretty much, was history: his was the voice that told Bostonians about RFK and MLK and Chappaquiddick, that man had landed on the Moon, that interviewed president after president. He covered Princess Diana’s funeral from London and held things together on the air on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Over the years, he served several stints as noon anchor on WBZ-TV (Channel 4), but he never wanted to leave radio behind. He had plenty of opportunities to leave Boston for bigger markets or even network jobs, and even came close more than once, but in the end he always stayed put on Soldiers Field Road. (In the early 1990s, he did take advantage of ABC Radio’s offer to serve as a fill-in for Paul Harvey News several times. It was a huge thrill for your editor to get to write for some of those fill-in stints – but it was just as big a thrill for Gary to do the national broadcast, too.)
Behind the scenes, Gary’s humor enlivened the newsroom for decades. His camaraderie with morning sports partner Gil Santos was as real off the air as it seemed on the air for all the years they worked together, culminating in an emotional farewell as the two anchored together for the last time on Gary’s retirement day in 2006. (By then, of course, he’d been spending more of the winter months at his second home on St. Augustine Beach, even anchoring some newscasts from a home studio.)
Gary’s voice was hardly absent from WBZ after retirement; freed at last to do commercials, he used his home studio to voice testimonials for advertisers and promotional pieces for the station and even returned as a guest fill-in anchor in 2010 after his successor, Ed Walsh, departed.
In retirement, Gary and his wife, Peg, split their time between Florida and Ipswich, enjoying the company of children and grandchildren. Gary was diagnosed with leukemia late last year; his family was with him at home in Ipswich last Monday when he died. He was 76.
A funeral was held on Friday, and while we were unable to get to Boston, we’re told that it was full of alumni from throughout Gary’s WBZ career, and that his colleague Carl Stevens delivered a heartfelt eulogy.
(We’ll have more on Gary’s life and legacy, and some archival audio, on the Top of the Tower podcast this week here on Fybush.com.)