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 Jan. 3 in Marin County, Calif. 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.
Bill Moyers, who worked with Chase on the PBS series “Now With Bill Moyers,” said in an e-mail that Chase “would quit before giving in to a less-than-honorable higher-up who insisted on compromising a story, and she was a breakthrough pioneer for woman in journalism and in coverage of kids in need.”
He added, “In the internecine conflicts at either CBS or ABC — between journalists trying to get it right and brass playing it safe — she had your back because she knew you would have hers.”
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 American Indians in New Mexico, racism in law enforcement and publicly funded programs that provided horrific care for disabled children.
TV Guide once called her “the most trusted woman on TV.”
Sylvia Belle Chase was born Feb. 23, 1938, in Northfield, Minn., to Kelsey David Chase and Sylvia Chase. After her parents divorced, she was raised by her grandmother in Minneapolis.
“People said Sylvia was ‘tough,’ but in fact it was principle that prompted her to stand her ground,” Moyers said. She was, he said, shaped by the New England liberalism of Northfield’s founders and by its good Samaritan heritage. (The town’s hero was a banker who in 1876 refused the James-Younger gang’s demand to open the vault because he would not betray the trust of his fellow citizens.)
Chase earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her brief marriage to Robert Rosenstone, a history professor at the California Institute of Technology, ended in divorce. She lived in Belvedere, Calif.