Longtime NBC News reporter John Palmer dies at 77
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012 file photo, John Palmer attends the "Today" show 60th anniversary celebration at the Edison Ballroom in New York. Palmer, a veteran reporter for NBC News over a span of 40 years, died Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013 at George Washington University Hospital of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 77. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — John Palmer, the longtime correspondent for NBC News who died Saturday after a brief illness, was remembered by former colleagues as a hardworking, gracious reporter who moved easily from war zones to the White House and who brought a reassuring voice to news broadcasts.
Palmer, 77, died Saturday at George Washington University Hospital of pulmonary fibrosis, according to his wife, Nancy.
"God bless John Palmer, tireless reporter, always a gentleman, loving husband and doting father," former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw wrote on Twitter. He said the death of his friend of nearly 50 years was "heartbreaking."
Palmer worked for NBC from 1962 to 1990, and then returned to the network from 1994 until 2002. He became a familiar face to viewers of the "Today" show during much of the 1980s, delivering the news in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner at a time when the program often led in the ratings.
NBC News praised Palmer in a statement Saturday as a "brilliant, brave, and tireless journalist who guided viewers through many of the most significant events of the past half-century — from the early days of the civil rights movement through the tragedy of 9/11."
"He covered five presidents and traveled to every corner of the world, always showing the empathy and compassion that helped set him apart," the statement said. "His kindness is remembered by all of us, and it built lasting bonds throughout our news division."
A native of Kingsport, Tenn., Palmer was a graduate of Northwestern University and held a master's degree from Columbia University.
He got his start as a reporter in Atlanta in 1960, according to a news segment on Palmer that aired on the NBC Nightly News on Saturday, and two years later moved up to the network.
In the 1970s, he was based in Beirut, covering the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the war in Cyprus and the civil war in Angola. He later served as a correspondent in Paris and at the White House.
In April 1980 he landed one of his biggest scoops, breaking the news of the Carter administration's failed attempt to rescue the American hostages being held in Iran. Eight U.S. servicemen died when a helicopter crashed into a C-130 transport plane at a staging area in Iran.
"The rescue mission had been aborted and eight Americans had died," Palmer told viewers.
His reporting on the story brought him the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for excellence in presidential news coverage, making him the first broadcast journalist to receive that honor.
"John Palmer brought to the White House beat his foreign policy experience and a steady reassuring voice, in good times and in bad," NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell said in the tribute to Palmer that aired Saturday night.
It was also at NBC's Washington news bureau that Palmer met his wife, Nancy, a Nightly News producer.
In 1982 he became news anchor on the "Today" show during the highly successful run of Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel as co-hosts. He remained there until 1989, when he was abruptly replaced by Deborah Norville, who was being groomed for a co-host role, and handed her old job on the show that preceded it, "NBC News at Sunrise." Norville succeeded Pauley shortly afterward but was herself replaced after the show's ratings plummeted.