Emmy Award-winning journalist Bob Wallace didn’t just tell a good story. He lived it.
From scaling down a suburban water tower and ice skating with Disney characters to swinging on a trapeze in a skin-tight blue suit and riding atop the wing of an airplane, Wallace was the real-life Walter Mitty, a fictional character who went on crazy adventures in his day dreams. He became known for his renowned storytelling abilities and performing, at times, life-threatening stunts for the sake of entertaining Chicagoans through their television screens.
Wallace, who worked at CBS 2 for more than two decades before becoming the host of former Mayor Richard M. Daley office’s public information show, “Chicago Works,” died April 28 after contracting the coronavirus, his former television station confirmed Wednesday. He was 80.
Wallace worked in Boston, Indianapolis and Philadelphia before he came to Chicago in 1970 as a hard-news reporter and anchor. Later on, he transitioned to being a features reporter, providing CBS 2 viewers a playful complement to Bill Kurtis’ investigations and Walter Jacobson’s commentary.
“He had an imagination that was just terrific,” Kurtis said. “He had a rare talent of wanting to do anything.”
Wallace’s stories took him all over Chicago and the world. He reported on a volcano eruption in Hawaii and shared stories about Christmastime legends and English customs from London.
One of Wallace’s most memorable reports happened in the lead up to Chicago’s annual Air and Water Show. He flew on the wing of a biplane.
“All of a sudden, I look at the monitor, and there’s Bob standing on the upper wing, holding on ... as the plane takes off, and there he is, the daredevil himself doing things that no one dreamt they would be able to do,” Kurtis recalled. “He had a good humor. He took us all on a great ride.”
Wallace also did a report on the Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band, which he later joined as a drummer, Kurtis said. Once, he and the group surprised Channel 2’s newsroom.
“One day, here they come marching through the newsroom, and there’s always the question when you look at the Scottish kilts, which they wore, you know. ‘What’s under the Scottish kilt?’ ... And Bob was nice enough to — on the way out — flip his kilt up, and you realize they don’t wear anything!” said Kurtis, bursting into laughter recalling the story. “I mean that’s the kind of surprise that he included in almost every piece.”
WGN Radio host Bob Sirott, an entertainment and lifestyle editor for Channel 2 in the 1980s, said Wallace would routinely show up to the newsroom wearing funny costumes or with trays of food.
“He took the news seriously. He took the features he was doing seriously, the people he interviewed he took seriously, but he just didn’t take himself seriously,” Sirott said.
Sirott said Wallace, a graduate of Boston University, earned the respect of Chicagoans by posing as an “everyman.”
“The fact that people kind of thought of him as a native of Chicago speaks volumes about how he endeared himself to people here. You know, we tend to be very provincial around here. But Bob quickly became someone who was a true Chicagoan; he was real. And he certainly was one of the reasons why Channel 2 news became so successful during his time there,” Sirott said.
After his career at CBS, Wallace worked as a freelancer, established a small video production company and hosted the city of Chicago public information show “Chicago Works,” produced by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s press office.
Wallace will be remembered by his friends and colleagues for his exceptional storytelling, unique approach to journalism and fun-loving attitude.
“Bob Wallace was pure Chicago. A reporter who embodied our incredible city and its people,” CBS 2 General Manager Derek Dalton said in a statement. “He was one of our industry’s most memorable storytellers. He was the master of the surprise. Bob’s unique style will never be forgotten and for viewers and colleagues at CBS 2, neither will he.”
“I still, when I see the Shannon Rovers walk by, I look hard for Bob,” Kurtis said. “They won’t be the same without him ... I’m going to miss him.”
Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Mary Chappell