42-Year-Old Former News Anchor Dies While on Vacation with Family: 'She Was a Powerful Personality'


A former Illinois news anchor died unexpectedly April 10 while vacationing in Florida.

Lesley Swick Van Ness, 42, joined WGEM-TV as a reporter in 2003 and became a news anchor in 2006.

Since 2016, she had been a recruiter for the company, according to an announcement by the station.

The Muddy River News quoted a statement from Jennifer Dale, vice president of recruiting at Gray Television, as saying, “It is with a very heavy heart that we share some devastating news with you.

“Lesley Van Ness, who we have been so fortunate to have as part of the Gray family, passed away this (Monday) morning.

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“Lesley had been on vacation with her beautiful family in Florida when she fell ill and was hospitalized last Thursday.”

She asked for prayers for Van Ness’ family.

Gray Television’s Twitter account put out an identical statement:

No cause of death was announced.

Van Ness was from Elvaston, Illinois, according to the Muddy River News.  She was a graduate of Hamilton High School and Illinois State University.

WGEM’s announcement recalled Van Ness as “a force to be reckoned with.”

Matt Schmidt, who worked with her as an anchor from 2007 to 2014, said, “She was a powerful personality. She could walk into the newsroom and instantly take over.

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“She just had a commanding presence about her. Sitting on the news desk was an awesome experience.”

Station meteorologist Brian Inman also had high praise for her.

“She wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work and wasn’t afraid to work the extra hour, especially if it was something that was really impacting the community,” he said.

Longtime acquaintances Tom and Neat Brower wrote in response to her online obituary, “In the eyes of a small community she was a celebrity. That was a title well deserved. She did her job with integrity.

“Lesley will always hold a place in our hearts.”

Reporter Jamie Bittner tweeted that Van Ness helped open doors for young journalists and that she was a true “class act”:

Van Ness is survived by her husband, Tom, and two sons.

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Lorri Wickenhauser has worked at news organizations in California and Arizona. She joined The Western Journal in 2021.
Lorri Wickenhauser has worked at news organizations in California and Arizona. She joined The Western Journal in 2021.