Bringing street smarts to TV anchor desks and an anchorman's poise to reporting on the streets, John Henning had a stately presence in Boston broadcasting for more than four decades.
Anchoring the news on Channel 4, Channel 5, and Channel 7 for a total of 25 years, Mr. Henning was a no-nonsense Walter Cronkite figure for Boston viewers during a period when TV news became increasingly glitzy, a trend he abhorred.
"Some people think I'm boring, that I don't smile enough," Mr. Henning, who was known for a straightforward delivery, told the Globe in 1981. "But my philosophy is that anything that takes away from the job of presenting the news, that is distractive to the viewer, is bad. I'm talking about things like hairstyle and clothes and mannerisms."
Mr. Henning, who won many awards for his work and was a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, died last night at Massachusetts General Hospital, a few months after being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia. He was 73 and lived in Boston.
"What an institution he was in the city of Boston," Raymond L. Flynn, a former mayor, said this morning. "Nobody was more courageous and effective and a person of integrity than John Henning. This is a giant loss for the city. He was one of the greatest street reporters this city has ever had."
Michael S. Dukakis recalled that when he was governor, politicians took note if Mr. Henning was among a crowd of reporters.
"When Henning was at a press conference, you were aware of it," Dukakis said. "He was a presence, he asked serious questions, and you had better be ready for him. And then he'd be on the 6 o'clock news."
Mr. Henning towered above the competition because of his lengthy experience, his incisive reporting, and his imposing physique -- at 6-foot-5, he delivered the news from chairs that were adjusted lower to mitigate the height difference between him and his colleagues.
"I think a lot of people looked up to John because they recognized he knew what he was talking about," said Jack Hynes, a co-anchor with Mr. Henning at Channel 5. "There were two things in the television news business that are indispensable. You have to have likeability and credibility, and he had both. People liked him and politicians liked him, even though he asked tough questions."
Hynes added with a chuckle that because of his height, Mr. Henning "had this presence of, 'Don't mess with me, I know what I'm talking about.' And he had a great wry sense of humor. He left his mark on the city."
Born in New York City, Mr. Henning grew up in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, the oldest of six brothers. His father, Walter Henning, was a detective and assistant chief inspector in charge of detectives.
Mr. Henning worked part-time for newspapers in New Jersey and the New York City suburbs on Long Island while he attended St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., from which he graduated.
He moved north to get a master's at Boston University, where through mutual friends he met Betsy Cohen, who was an undergraduate. They married in 1969. She died in April 2008.
While still in graduate school, Mr. Henning started working as an intern at WGBH-TV, Channel 2. In 1964, he took a reporting job at what was then WNAC-TV, Channel 7, and became an anchor two years later.
In 1968, he left for WHDH-TV, Channel 5, where he was the anchor for the last news broadcast under those call letters and the first broadcast when the station became WCVB. Eleven years later, he jumped back to Channel 7, where he stayed until resigning in 1981 when his duties were diminished as the station management tried to address low ratings.
Mr. Henning completed the cycle of Boston TV news anchoring when he joined WBZ-TV, Channel 4, in 1982, and he remained at the station as senior correspondent until 2003.
Five years ago, he joined Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs as a senior adviser, consulting with clients on public policy, media relations, and crisis management.
"He was truly an icon," said Ron Della Chiesa, a longtime friend and a radio personality on WGBH. "We'll never see the likes of his kind of reporting again. There was a sense that when people watched John Henning say something on television, they believed him. The legacy of John Henning will never be forgotten."
Mr. Henning leaves two sons, Matthew of Winchester and Gregory of Boston; five brothers, James of New York City, Michael of Charleston, S.C., Daniel of Jacksonville, Fla., Paul of Glen Cove, N.Y., and Peter of Keyport, N.J.; and three grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 3 p.m. Tuesday in St. Joseph Church in Boston.
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