For 37 years she has been the epitome of grace, poise and professionalism on Chicago television news. Now the incomparable Linda Yu is retiring.
On Wednesday Yu, 69, will anchor her final 4 p.m. newscast for WLS-Channel 7. She’s been a mainstay of the top-rated ABC-owned station since 1984, following a five-year run at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.
A native of Xian, China, and a graduate of the University of Southern California, Yu came to Chicago in 1979 as a 32-year-old trailblazer — the first Asian American journalist on the air here.
Saying Yu “opened doors for others,” Jennifer Graves, news director of ABC 7, added: “She set the bar high with her skillful anchoring and unflappable breaking news coverage. Linda has a special ability to connect with viewers on screen and off, one of the many reasons she has so many fans in this city.”
What would Yu have done if she hadn’t spent all these years in broadcast journalism?
“Way back when I was starting college and thinking of a career, women didn’t think there were that many fields open to us,” she told me the other day. “I knew I could write, and luckily, my mother asked me to take a journalism class. In China, she never expected to have a career, but she had a dream of becoming a reporter.
“I took a beginning journalism class and fell in love. I really expected to become a newspaper reporter, but fate opened a door for me to become a TV journalist.
“But another career? In recent years, because I love pandas, my producers run panda stories when we get them. Through those, I’ve learned that some zoos in the U.S. and the panda research centers in China hire people to cuddle pandas. Now that would be a great new career!”
As successful as she’s been on the air, Yu may have had even greater influence as a role model and mentor to many others in the profession — including Judy Hsu, the ABC 7 news anchor who succeeds her at 4 p.m. alongside Rob Elgas, starting Thursday.
“You have had an impact on so many young, aspiring journalists — Asian American or non-Asian American,” Hsu told Yu in a heartfelt tribute Sunday on a special edition of ABC 7’s “Newsviews.” “We found our voice because we watched you find yours on television.”
How does Yu reflect on her contribution to the lives of others?
“I’ve always believed in helping — whether it’s students who want advice and guidance, or something I can do to open a door for someone,” she said. “Among Asians, I did learn that my presence on a family’s TV set opened some Asian parents to journalism as a profession for their children.
“A favorite story: Years ago in California, my brother was helping a friend of his at his book store. As my brother took the credit card of a young customer, he saw that her name was ‘Linda Yu Chin.’ Surprised, he asked why her name was Linda Yu. She said: ‘My parents watched Linda Yu on TV in San Francisco and named me after her!’
“But it hasn’t really been until my retirement was announced that I got a real sense that I have helped others. So many people have reached out to tell me I helped them or inspired them. It has been very humbling.”
Since Yu went public with plans to embark on “new adventures” (including writing her next book and seeing her children more often in California), the outpouring of love and affection from viewers has been nothing short of tremendous.
What surprised her most about the reaction? “The number of people who have walked up to me — with tears in their eyes — saying: ‘You can’t retire!’ ” she said.