The Class of 1953

Remembering Bill Beutel


By Bill Ritter

(New York- WABC, 2006) - For over three decades, he brought you the news on Channel 7. Bill Beutel was a true newsman who inspired his co-workers, and made a big and lasting name for himself because of the stories he brought us and the way he told them. Now he has passed on and we remember him and the legacy he left. A private funeral is planned for later in the week. A memorial service will take place sometime in the spring.

Here's Eyewitness News' Bill Ritter with Bill Beutel's story.

Bill Beutel didn't just read the news, he was our guide to an ever-changing New York and an ever changing world. And he did, twice a night for more than three decades.

And when his newscast was over, when he was done telling us what we needed to know, he signed off with his trademark.

Bill Beutel (Eyewitness News Segment): "Good luck and be well. Goodnight"

Bill could give it to us straight or sometimes with a verbal twist. He covered nine presidents and seven New York mayors.

Bill Beutel: "In your first inaugural address, you said most thought New York was ungovernable, Rudolph Giuliani: "It's like a different city."

Bill never saw himself as a star, as bigger than the news. But he became, perhaps despite himself, a New York icon.

Behind the scenes he was exactly the same as he was on camera, full of jokes, often self-deprecating. And sometimes offering a musical number or two.

He was always generous and, most important for a reporter, curious.

His real name was pronounced Bill Boydel but his first news director didn't like the sound of it so he made him change it to Beutel. That's a story few know.

Bill began his television career on ABC in 1962 and pulled double duty as a reporter for ABC news and an anchor for Channel 7's one-hour evening newscast.

It was called back then, "The Big News."

He left his New York anchor desk in 1968 to join ABC News full time as the network's London Bureau chief. That's where he worked with a young reporter by name of Jennings. Peter Jennings.

Peter Jennings (2002 Interview Segment): "One of the things I admire about Bill is he's not fancy. He's very basic. I think audiences, in times of trouble and good times, look for people on television who are basic, don't have airs, don't hype themselves."

Two years later Bill was lured back to New York to share the anchor desk with Roger Grimsby for A revamped Channel 7 news program. It was called "Eyewitness News."

Grimsby and Beutel quickly became the most influential and most popular local news team in town. And they seldom pulled any punches.

Grimsby (from a TV commercial): "Working with Bill all these years, I'm absolutely convinced there's nothing to the story that nice guys finish last. Sometimes they finish second."

Beutel (from a TV commercial): "People always ask me, 'What is Grimsby like?' Brash and arrogant. No, not really. I'd do anything for Roger, except lend him money."

Bill Beutel (interview segment from 2003): "Grimsby and I never set out to be funny, ever scripted any of the bon mots that came tumbling out of his mouth in particular. I was kind of the censor. 'Oh, you don't really mean that do you Roger?' Of course he did mean it."

Beutel and Grimsby worked together for 16 years. During that time, Bill took a stab at morning news hosting a show for ABC called "AM America." That show eventually became "Good Morning America."

From his first days at Channel 7, Bill was an ardent advocate of local news also covering the world -- firsthand.

Bill Beutel (from 2003 interview): "One thing I'm very proud of: Back in 1965 I wanted very much to go to Vietnam."

It took some doing, but he became the first New York City reporter to be embedded with the military in Vietnam.

Soldier (heard on news story film): "Welcome to Dong Xao. I can't guarantee your safety. I can't even guarantee a soldier's safety."

That series started a trend that exists today. We cover the world. We cover it by sending reporters there. That thirst for international reporting never waned. And 30 years later, Bill returned to a very different Vietnam. And when many of his friends were deep into retirement, Bill was still reporting, from New York to Uganda where he brought us the story of the global AIDS crisis.

At age 70, Bill went behind the lines of the civil war in Sierra Leone where children were being forced literally to risk their lives and limbs to find diamonds for warlords.

Beutel: "we met the rebel leader and he effectively told me to shut up. I said, 'I take your point.'" He stepped down from the anchor desk in January, 2001, but eight months later during New York's biggest tragedy, Bill Beutel the reporter was on the job.

Bill retired in January, 2003. But he remained our leader, our mentor, and our friend.

Bill Beutel: "If I leave a legacy and I hope I do, it's my joy in this work. There's never been a day I didn't want to come to work. My legacy, I would hope, is that younger people would find the same kind of joy in this kind of work because it is difficult, it's competitive, it's frustrating. But what we do on the tube each day, if we are giving ourselves to it, we are doing something of great value to the country, to ourselves. We do something worthwhile and with God's luck, you can be happy doing it. I was."

Bill is survived by his wife, Adair Beutel, and his children, Peter Beutel, Robin Gamble, Colby Beutel-Burns, and Heather Fortinberry.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the following organizations:
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital
  • Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Southampton Hospital on Long Island
(Copyright 2006 WABC-TV)