On December 7th, 2019 Connecticut lost a legendary news anchor who had been a part of people’s lives for generations. Denise D’Ascenzo died suddenly at home after waking up feeling unwell. It was an awful day for her family, for the state and for me.
I was in my car less than a mile from my home when Denise’s husband Wayne called me to tell me the news. I rushed home and Kara and I talked with Wayne and made plans for me to go to their house right away to be with Denise so Wayne could go tell their daughter Kathryn.
Here is the account of what happened from an interview Wayne and I gave to Connecticut Magazine.
Roughly eight hours after I learned the devastating news, I went on television to tell the world.
Those who weren’t watching TV that night were at holiday parties, events, restaurants, and stores. Alerts were sent to phones and people called and texted one another to break the news. Kara was at our daughter’s recital when I anchored that special report. Within minutes she said people in the audience looked at their phones and many looked at her, incredulous. Our kids hadn’t been told yet, so when the recital ended and people rushed to Kara for details, she just wanted to get Helena and Julian to the car and tell them the awful news.
At the station the few who knew were in shock and we consoled each other in the office of the general manager, Dana Neves. After a quick plan for the special report was formulated, I went downstairs to the newsroom called everyone together and broke the news. Moments later Dana sent out a company wide email.
While producer Tracy Furey and photographers Eric Budney, friends of Denise, assembled a video tribute, I wrote a rough script to read. I was in the studio with about 6-7 people, there for moral support mostly. Usually the studio is empty of people except for a meteorologist. Extra staff had come in to help the Saturday night crew cover the story. We regrouped after the special report was done and prepared for the 11PM news. We consoled each other and I took phone calls from Governor Lamont, Gayle King, Mika Brzezinski, Senator Blumenthal and so many others. I spoke to Denise’s husband and Kathryn several times that night.
The days that followed were a bit of a blur. The outpouring from people all over was comforting during a time when the grief and shock were overwhelming. I’d never cried so much in my life and to see my teammates sob as well was heartbreaking. The morning after Denise died I woke up with chest and back pains. I told Kara statistically speaking I couldn’t be having a heart attack, too, right? A doctor friend of mine told physical pain often happens with grief.
We had to prepare to give Denise’s eulogy at the private funeral later that week and plan a public memorial for sometime in January. I anchored next to an empty chair and wore a black suit every day. Our team wore coral ribbons, Denise’s favorite color. I was asked to do a few interviews on TV and radio talking about Denise, which was cathartic and therapeutic.
Within days a bewildered Wayne and Kathryn and I came up with the idea of the Denise D’ascenzo Foundation, and one year later that will be our focus. We hope you can join us on the journey http://www.thedenisefoundation.com