For decades “Call Russ Ewing!” was a familiar refrain among fugitives, hostage-takers and suspects in the Chicago area before they would turn themselves in to police.
A trusted and courageous reporter for two local television stations, Ewing escorted more than 100 suspects to custody in the course of his celebrated career. His calm and reassuring presence guaranteed their safety — and their appearance on the 10 o’clock news.
Ewing died of cancer Tuesday at his home in Paw Paw, Michigan. He was 95.
“Russ Ewing’s storied career is legendary in Chicago,” said Alan Krashesky, principal news anchor at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, where Ewing worked from 1981 to 1995. “At the core of all his work was the trust he established, whether with the many criminal suspects who surrendered to him peacefully or the everyday people he interviewed for daily news stories. They could all expect to be treated fairly in his reporting.
“On the personal side, Russ was a gifted pianist,” Krashesky added. “Many Chicagoans will recall his annual recitals, quite a treat to watch and hear him playing with jazz great Ramsey Lewis.”
Born on Chicago’s South Side and orphaned at an early age, Ewing worked as a firefighter and piano salesman before he began his media career as a courier for NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 in 1964. He moved up to news writer and reporter, making his on-air debut in 1967.
His role as a trusted emissary began in 1976 when two men in ski masks attempted to rob a South Side currency exchange. A shootout with police ensued, followed by a 4½-hour standoff. The robbers, who had taken two customers as hostages, agreed to surrender — but only if Ewing escorted them out of the building.
“If it works, you’re a hero,” Ewing famously said. “If not, you’re dead.”
A 1985 profile in People magazine said Ewing had “earned a reputation around the Windy City for being the fugitive’s best and sometimes only friend.”
After more than 30 years in news, Ewing retired from ABC 7 in 1995, telling me: “I’ve done everything I feel I can do in this business, I’m tired of it, and I’m ready to go.”
But three years later he was lured back to NBC 5 where he contributed special investigative reports and escorted his 116th and 117th suspects to justice.
A member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and a multiple Emmy Award winner, Ewing was inducted in the Silver Circle of the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997.
The Chicago Association of Black Journalists established Russ Ewing Excellence in Journalism Awards and Scholarship Presentation in 2003.