Sylvia Chase, an Emmy Award-winning correspondent whose professionalism and perseverance in the 1970s helped a generation of women infiltrate the boys club of television news, died Thursday in Marin County, California. She was 80.
Her death was confirmed by Shelly Ross, a former network news colleague, who said Chase had undergone surgery for brain cancer several weeks ago.
Chase was one of a number of correspondents hired by network and local television news departments—along with Connie Chung, Cassie Mackin, Marya McLaughlin, Virginia Sherwood, Lesley Stahl and others—at a time when women were striving to be taken seriously and to defy being typecast as eye candy for male viewers.
While they had been preceded a decade earlier by pioneers like Marlene Sanders, Chase and her contemporaries were members of a freshman class still more concerned with getting into broadcast news on the ground floor than worried about being passed over for promotion later on because of a glass ceiling.
Chase was an original member of the reporting team for the weekly ABC News magazine "20/20"; a correspondent for another ABC News series, "Primetime"; and the producer and host of a daytime program for CBS, "Magazine." She also anchored the nightly news on KRON-TV in San Francisco.
She broke ground on topics like sex abuse in the workplace and in prison. She also reported on a diet pill that was linked to lung disease, a treatment program for drug-addicted musicians, an epidemic of diabetes (a disease that she endured herself) among Native Americans in New Mexico, racism in law enforcement and publicly funded programs that provided horrific care for disabled children.
She won Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University and George Foster Peabody awards and shared an Emmy in 1978 with her producer, Stanhope Gould, for a report on exploding automobile gas tanks. TV Guide once called her "the most trusted woman on TV."
Sylvia Belle Chase was born Feb. 23, 1938, in Northfield, Minnesota, to Kelsey David Chase and Sylvia (Bennett) Chase. After her parents divorced, she was raised by her grandmother in Minneapolis. The grandmother was listed in census records as the custodian of an apartment house whose tenants included Sylvia's aunt, a radio announcer.
Sylvia's first broadcasting job was reporting on junior high school doings for a show she and her older sister produced for local radio.
Chase earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles, taking two extra years to graduate because she was working her way through college as a receptionist. Her brief marriage to Robert Rosenstone, a history professor at the California Institute of Technology, ended in divorce. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available. She lived in Belvedere, California.
She worked for Democratic legislators and candidates in California in the 1960s until she was hired by the Los Angeles radio station KNX. In 1971, she joined CBS News in New York, where she wrote and narrated a new radio series, "The American Woman," which replaced the on-air advice column "Dear Abby." She was later a correspondent on the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite."
She was hired by ABC News in 1977 and was a correspondent for "20/20" from 1978 to 1985. KRON promoted her return to California in 1985 with billboards proclaiming, "The Chase Is On."
"I resolve to raise public awareness about two issues," she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1988: "the perils facing California's children and the growing crisis in caring for AIDS patients."
Chase left San Francisco in 1990 and returned to ABC in New York. When her contract was not renewed after the network retrenched in 2001, she moved to PBS, where she narrated a documentary series titled "Exposé" and joined "Now With Bill Moyers" as a correspondent.
In 1973, during the Watergate scandal, Chase was determined to get an interview with President Richard M. Nixon's younger daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who was emerging as one of Nixon's foremost public defenders. She revealed her successful strategy to Savvy magazine.
"The basic rule is not to take 'No,' ever," Chase said. "Call again and again, every day."