Bob Borngesser, longtime WHAG-TV news director, anchor, dies at 79

December 14, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Borngesser

HAGERSTOWN — Bob Borngesser, the longtime news director and anchor of WHAG-TV, died Wednesday morning at his Hagerstown home at the age of 79, his daughter Cathy Bromwell said.

"He was gloriously imperfect. He was a wonderful father," said Bromwell of Virginia Beach. Va. "He had his quirks about him, but that's what made him so lovable."

Borngesser worked for WHAG-TV from 1979 until he retired in 1997, station News Director Mark Kraham said.

In addition to his on-air duties at the station, Borngesser was responsible for hiring the news staff, which included Kelly Wright and Molly Henneberg, both of whom moved on to become fixtures on Fox News in Washington, D.C., and Heather Kahn, who went on to anchor Channel 5 in Boston.

"He always had the ability to pick good people," said former Washington County Commissioner Ronald Bowers. That included weatherman Lou Scally, whom Bowers called "the quintessential TV news personality."

Scally's career had been in radio, but Borngesser "saw through the radio what Lou Scally could be on TV," Bowers said.

"He was a great guy. He was funny, well-educated and a man of many interests," said Scally, who recalled Borngesser coming to WJEJ radio and working with him for a couple of years before taking the news director job at WHAG-TV.

"He looked the part. He sounded the part" of a television news anchor, Scally said.

Bowers described Borngesser as funny, quick-witted and cool enough to ad-lib his way through a newscast even if the TelePrompTer broke down.

"It was a great joy working with him. He was the consummate professional," WHAG-TV General Manager Hugh Breslin said. "He was a calming force in our newsroom" and a mentor to many young reporters, he said.

"We were fortunate to have someone with his level of experience," said Breslin, who noted Borngesser's tremendous sense of humor, sometimes masked by the anchorman's on-air persona.

Borngesser's last newscast at the station was just before Christmas in 1997. He continued to do news commentaries on the station for several years after his retirement, Bromwell said.

"He had a vast knowledge of the community in which he lived," which greatly aided Borngesser's understanding and reporting of the news, Bowers said.

"We leave Bosnia to Brokaw and do (Ronald) Bowers instead," Borngesser told The Herald-Mail in a story written about his retirement.

Borngesser started his career in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from George Washington University and interned at the Washington Post, he said in the 1997 interview. His first news broadcasting job was in 1960 with WFAX in Falls Church, Va., and he moved to a reporting job at WRC in Washington in 1967.

"He worked with Willard Scott and Ed Walker, two broadcasting giants in the D.C. area and nationally," Kraham said.

Borngesser also did some weekend newscasting for NBC television and radio, he said.

Scott and Walker were known as "The Joy Boys," a popular radio team on WRC, Scally said.

"Willard Scott was actually my Santa Claus for many years," recalled Bromwell. "That was kind of a cool experience for me as a kid."

In his WRC days, Borngesser's on-air name was Bob Keene, with Keene being his mother's maiden name, Bromwell said.

After eight years with WRC, Borngesser said in the 1997 interview that he moved to Hagerstown, where he owned Cracker Barrel magazine for two years and opened a Flower World Franchise at Long Meadow Shopping Center.

"He eventually got sick of the rat race" in Washington and moved to Hagerstown, Bromwell said.

"I think he wanted to raise his children here. He was keenly interested in their welfare," Scally said.

"He loved this community. He gave a lot back through volunteering," said Breslin, who worked with Borngesser during the 18 years he served as news director.

Borngesser served a stint as president of The Maryland Theatre Board at the time the theater emerged from debt.

He also served on the board of the Humane Society of Washington County, Bromwell said.

"He's always been a person who loved his life, loved his family and loved his animals," his daughter said.

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