Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
Alec Gifford, the legendary New Orleans television journalist, whose 51-year career included stints at two local stations as well as NBC News, died Friday, WDSU reported. He was 85.
Gifford’s health, including what he described as three “mini-strokes,” led to his retirement from WDSU-TV in 2006, just one year after he celebrated 50 years in local broadcasting.
"I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I never dreamed in December 1955 that this would happen, that I would end up being the senior guy in New Orleans,” Gifford told The Times-Picayune in 2006. "It's been a fabulous career."
Gifford’s love for his work was evident in the fact that he continued as a workaday reporter well into his 70s, with stamina and determination that amazed colleagues half his age.
A New Orleans native, Jesuit High School graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, Gifford’s journalism career included early years at the Houston Post as well as radio stations in Baltimore and Texas, where he worked at a station owned by Lyndon Johnson.
He was hired by WDSU-TV’s first news director Bill Monroe, in 1955 – just seven years after the station signed on the air. For many years Gifford was the “Esso Reporter,” anchoring nightly newscasts sponsored by the Esso Standard Oil Company.
Highlights of his early career at WDSU included an exclusive, sit-down interview with John F. Kennedy on the night Kennedy announced his bid for the White House. Gifford is also remembered for continuous coverage of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, on WDSU Radio. He was also news anchor for the station’s popular “Midday” show, appearing alongside TV icons Terry Flettrich, Wayne Mack, Bob and Jan Carr, Nash Roberts and Al Shea.
Gifford was frank about his role as a pioneer in local television news during its heyday in the 1950s.
“It was the golden age, but in a sense it was the stone age,” he said in a 2003 interview for WYES-TV. “I hate to say it, but we had no idea what we were doing. We had no idea how to do TV news – how to cover it and so forth.”
In 1966, Gifford left New Orleans for a job in New York as NBC News correspondent, but returned home about a year later to work as news director and anchor at WVUE-TV. There, he worked alongside Nash Roberts and Buddy Diliberto and was responsible for hiring many journalists who went on to successful careers in New Orleans broadcasting. That list includes WWL-TV reporter Bill Capo and former WWL-TV news director Joe Duke, along with Norman Robinson, Richard Angelico, Bob Krieger, and Furnell Chatman, one of the city’s first African-American TV reporters.
Gifford returned to WDSU in 1980 and served in various roles there, including morning and midday news anchor, public affairs host, political reporter and even cooking show host.
He often said that news reporting was in his blood, and he meant it. His great-grandfather, Numa Dufour, published the French-language newspaper L'Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans. His father, Alexander Gifford, covered the administration of Gov. Huey Long for The Times-Picayune and later worked for a newspaper in Baltimore.
Among many awards earned during his career, Gifford was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of New Orleans and inducted into the New Orleans Broadcasting Hall of Fame by the Greater New Orleans Broadcasters Association.
Gifford is survived by his wife, his five children and several grandchildren.
Funeral plans have not been announced.