Obit on Tom McGann

Here is the Jan. 6, 2000, obit from the Chicago Sun-Times (by Brenda Warner Rotzoll) on veteran Unipresser Tom McGann:


Tom McGann, 72; wrote UPI radio copy for decades

If you had tuned in to any radio station across the United States between 1957 and the early 1980s, chances were the top national and international news you heard had been written in Chicago by Tom McGann of United Press International.

He spent most of his working life fashioning crisp, bright radio news with two-finger typing at machinegun speed when UPI offered the first wire service news reports written "for the ear" for radio and television broadcasts.

Mr. McGann, 72, died at his home Tuesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His daughter, Sheila Cassella, said he was despondent over the death of his wife two years ago, and was going blind after years of struggle with major vision problems.

A native of Lyndhurst, N.J., Mr. McGann studied at Columbia University in New York. He moved to Chicago in 1957 when UPI established its national broadcast desk here, living for many years in Rogers Park. He and his wife, Adele, were known for their generous entertaining and their passion for Scottish terriers, which Mrs. McGann, a book editor, bred.

Mr. McGann was a great reader with a passion for history. After he lost his central vision, he kept up with the latest histories on tapes from the Library of Congress service for the blind. He kept in touch with old friends via the Downhold Wire, a special e-mail service run by ex-UPI employees and named for the company's frequently wired instructions to bureau managers to "downhold expenses."

"He was a master at punchy copy and colorful language with a unique ability to catch the drama of many of the great stories of the day--the Apollo space shots, Watergate, the Vietnam War, the Paris peace talks," said Barbara Hillebrand of WMAQ, who worked with Mr. McGann for years on UPI's national broadcast desk.

"He had a tremendous grasp of world events and what made them relatable to people who heard about them on the radio," Hillebrand said.

"During the Senate Watergate hearings, when the UPI broadcast wire would transmit hourly summaries, Tom would watch the proceedings for most of the hour, then turn to his typewriter and in a matter of a few minutes distill an hour's worth of often complex testimony into a sharp, insightful account.

"He made it look easy," said Steve Huntley, editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and a former executive editor of UPI's national broadcast service.

His longtime friend Billy Ferguson, retired UPI managing editor, said Mr. McGann was a gregarious, bright man and "a really good teacher. A lot of the young newshands who came to UPI still consider him their best tutor."

"Watching him type under deadline pressure was worth the price of admission," said Paul K. Harral, editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, also a former executive editor of UPI's national broadcast service. "But what I most admired about him were his wide-ranging interests. Some of my favorite memories of Chicago were of evenings spent at his apartment reading plays. And he also taught me how to hang wallpaper. How can you adequately describe a man like that?"

The McGanns were known in UPI circles around the globe for their dinner parties with great food and great company. They always made sure friends alone in the city had a place to go for Thanksgiving. Parties included Mr. McGann's "wonderfully eclectic circle of friends. There were journalists, of course, but there was also a mechanic, a CTA bus driver and a barber who cut hair at the prison in Joliet," Huntley said.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. McGann is survived by a sister, Margaret Petrocelli, and many nieces and nephews.

A wake is scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. today at the Barr Funeral Home, 6222 N. Broadway. Funeral services will be private.

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