In her heyday, longtime journalist and Chicago Defender society columnist Theresa “TeeSee” Fambro Hooks knew everyone. No one could beat her at the craft of gathering the 411 on Chicago’s social set.
Ms. Hooks loved what she did, working well into her golden years, so that veterans and newbies alike still had to turn to her column for black community goings-on not covered by mainstream media.
She never went anywhere without her camera, amassing an astounding photo archive and contact list during 50-plus years at the Defender. She loved the city she wrote about in “TeeSee’s Town.”
“She was dedicated. She’d leave home around midnight to go to work, and when most people were getting up for work, she’d be coming home,” said longtime friend Leanne Muller-Wharton, who lived in the same condo building, directly above Ms. Hooks, for 13 years.
“We’d tell her, ‘TeeSee, it’s not safe to go out that late, riding the bus. She’d say, ‘Honey, I gotta write my column. It’s my column, and nobody’s gonna write it but me,'” said Wharton. “I would wake up to her blasting Herb Kent on V-103 on weekend mornings. It’s quiet now. I’m still numb.”
Ms. Hooks died Sunday in her South Shore home. She was 80.
A beloved grand dame of Chicago’s black journalists’ community, Ms. Hooks began her career at the Defender in 1961. She became an avid photographer and for a time ran her own public relations firm, Theresa Fambro Hooks and Associates. She had refused to retire, writing her column until April 2015.
“It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our own Grand Dame, Ms. Theresa “TeeSee” Fambro Hooks,” said Cheryl Mainor, publisher of the historic black newspaper founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott. “We will miss her greatly and are saddened by our loss. Thank you TeeSee for sharing your gifts with the world through the Chicago Defender. We are forever grateful!”
WBEZ Radio producer Kathy Chaney, president of the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago Chapter, recalled working late nights and weekends with Ms. Hooks when Chaney worked at the Defender.
“I’m grateful to have had the pleasure of working with her for more than eight years,” said Chaney. “She was like another mother to me. The paper would not be what it was without her handprints. To have been included in TeeSee’s column meant you made it. Her death creates a void that will never be filled.”
NBC-5 reporter Art Norman, among the many journalists who frequently drove Ms. Hooks home from events in recent years, said the civil rights sage worked alongside such legends as Vernon Jarrett and Marjorie Stewart Joyner, who helped put the Defender on the map during the ’60s civil rights movement.
“Driving her home, we’d talk for hours about the early days of the Defender. She became a legend in her own right, but was still a very humble woman, also humorous,” said Norman. “She’d tell me to take down a photo of her from Facebook that she said showed too many wrinkles, or she’d come kick my butt.”
Born in Chicago on May 5, 1935, Ms. Hooks graduated in 1953 from what was then Parker High School, now Robeson. She attended University of Illinois, Roosevelt University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied fashion design. A fashionista, she was a skilled seamstress who made many of her own clothes.
Ms. Hooks began as woman’s editor and society columnist at the Defender, and wrote an advice column under the name of “Arletta Claire.” Her column, “Social Whirl,” later became “TeeSee’s Town,” covering arts and culture and corporate, community and social events.
“It was always flattering to find yourself in ‘TeeSee’s Town,’ said CBS-2 reporter Dorothy Tucker. “It was a joy to be in her company, and an honor to have known her.”
Ms. Hooks also worked in corporate marketing for Parker House Sausage Co.; as manager of community/public affairs for Philco-Ford’s Chicago Residential Manpower Center; and special assistant to the president of Olive Harvey College for public information. Clients of her public relations firm included ETA Creative Arts Foundation, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Abraham Lincoln Center and The Woodlawn Organization.
Ms. Hooks was at times active with the Girl Scouts, YWCA, Westside Association of Community Action, Midwest Sickle Cell Association, West Chesterfield Garden Club, and Adoption Information Services. She is past national president of the National Association of Media Women. Her many awards include the Black Women’s Expo Phenomenal Woman Award; the Black Public Relations Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award; the Russ Ewing Legacy Award of Excellence; and NABJ’s Outstanding Journalist Award. She was a longtime member of Trinity United Church of Christ, where she sang in the choir.
“She was great friends with my parents, and adopted us as her children after my mother passed. My entire life, she’s always been Aunt TeeSee,” said her adopted goddaughter, Gloria Jenkins.
“She was a role model for my sister and I. She taught us about all things related to arts and culture, and we revered the way that she took an unconditional approach to all things in her life. Media was essentially a male dominated field when she began, and she was one of the few women that held her own and stayed the course,” said Jenkins. “She loved life and she loved people and she had so many friends. The fact is, if you met her more than once, you were probably family.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.