For more than 33 years, a popular journalist enjoyed a commanding presence at Meredith Corp.‘s CBS-affiliated WFSB-3 in Hartford-New Haven.
Now, colleagues, peers, viewers and industry leaders are expressing their heartfelt sorrow in reaction to the sudden death of Denise D’Ascenzo. She was 61 years old.
It’s a tremendous loss for the station, and for the nation’s television news business.
In Connecticut, two local news anchors are perhaps best-recalled by generations of TV viewers. One is former WFSB anchor Gayle King, now with CBS, who worked at the station from 1981-1999. The other is D’Ascenzo, who joined WFSB in 1986.
“The grief we are all feeling is immeasurable,” WFSB stated in an online tribute to D’Ascenzo, who died Saturday (12/7) in her sleep. Family members believe her unexpected death is the result of a massive heart attack.
Holding back tears, WFSB weekend morning news anchor Caitlan Nuclo said on-air Sunday, “One of the things that we loved most about Denise was the way she cared for people. You could tell that when you watched on TV that she just radiated kindness.”
D’Ascenzo’s co-anchor, Dennis House, produced a report that served as a career highlight reel.
WFSB anchor Irene O’Connor was among many colleagues to offer their thoughts on D’Ascenzo’s unexpected passing. “It’s just a heartbreaking time. A true friend and mentor to so many. I am stunned and so sad. It is hard to find the words but I am praying for her family tonight. She was a huge supporter of mine and others at Channel 3.”
D’Ascenzo started her long tenure at WFSB in March 1986, under Post-Newsweek ownership. An alumnus of Syracuse University, she first partnered with Pat Sheehan, Don Lark, Gerry Brooks and legendary local TV news anchor Al Terzi.
House has shared the anchor desk with D’Ascenzo for more than 25 years.
“Denise was the voice of calm when things were most chaotic,” he said.
Speaking on CBS This Morning about her former colleague, King told viewers, “It’s one of those things, guys, where it’s so shocking when you get the news because Denise, at 61, was in great shape, she was in great health.”
King added that, in a phone conversation Sunday with D’Ascenzo’s husband, she felt “a little indigestion in the morning, she took some Tums, went upstairs to go to bed, to take a little nap, checked on her four hours later and she was dead. It’s that shocking.”
For WFSB GM Dana Neves, the station’s captain has been lost — an individual that struck a chord with Neves while serving as a WFSB intern in the 1990s, when D’Ascenzo treated her with respect from Day One, she said. Neves told the Hartford Courant, “In a crisis, we’d say, ‘Let’s go and get Denise.’ Now, she’s become the crisis, and it’s really jarring.”
D’Ascenzo is also one of a long line of pioneering women in television journalism tied to WFSB-3. In 2013, she was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for significant contributions to broadcasting with her election to the Silver Circle. In 2015, she became the first female inductee into the Connecticut Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
D’Ascenzo has also received two prestigious Edward R. Murrow awards, seven Associated Press awards, and a national Gabriel Award.
In a statement to RBR+TVBR, Meredith Local Media Group President Pat McCreery said, “This is a shocking and devastating loss for us all. Denise was an outstanding journalist and an extraordinary leader in the WFSB newsroom for more than three decades. She was kind, giving, and passionate about her community, dedicating her time and energy to countless organizations and causes in Connecticut. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at home and at WFSB.“
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont noted that D’Ascenzo was the longest serving news anchor at a single television station in the Constitution State.
“Through her dedicated work and dependable reporting, she earned the distinction of being a trusted name in journalism and her reporting most certainly made an impact,” Lamont said in a statement to the Hartford Courant. “The work journalists provide is a vital public service, and through her career, Denise dedicated herself to the people of Connecticut.”
D’Ascenzo began her career at the former WIXT-9 in Syracuse, now WSYR-TV. She later worked as a reporter at KSDK-5 in St. Louis before taking the nighttime co-anchor slot at Cleveland’s WJKW-8 (now WJW-TV).
D’Ascenzo is survived by her husband Wayne and daughter Kathryn.