Jim Vance has died at the age of 75. He worked at NBC 4, here in Washington, for 48 years, and he was anchor for 45 years.
Jim Vance was a friend. Not a close friend, but we knew each other well enough that when we ran into each other in Georgetown on a dark side street some year back, we both stopped to chat. This was a day or two after DC mayor Marion Barry had been caught smoking crack in a hotel room. Marion Barry had asked for Jim to come counsel him at home, even as reporters circled the house like vultures on a carcass. Jim had sorted his own drug problems a few years earlier. I told Jim I had just seen him on the news. Jim laughed. I laughed.
How long had he known Barry? Jim said that was the weird thing: they didn't really know each other. It was a small town, but they hung out in different waters. I said that Barry had been a bright light and a powerhouse that most people did not know and appreciate. I clicked through his accomplishments at SNCC, his coming to Washington wearing a dashiki, his school board work, his work on the city council, his getting shot in the ass by the Hanafi Muslims in March of 77. Jim wasn't expecting a white guy to know this much about Marion Barry or to say anything good about him. No one was defending Marion Barry back then; he was a convenient demon for those who feared the rise of non-white political power.
"I get Marion," I said. "What I don't get is Effi" his wife. Why was she staying with him?"
Jim said he thought Effi was one of those born-again Christian types who, when she said "to have and to hold until death do us part," meant it.
I asked Jim if he thought Barry was mostly addicted to dope or women. "He's got a dick problem," Jim said, 'but it's all connected. If he's not in at least three 12-Step programs at the end, he's going to be in denial."
And we both laughed.
That was Jim Vance: smart, funny, caring, and uncomplicated. He was a little bit street-wise and a very clear thinker. He made you feel comfortable. He was the best of us. And now he is gone.