David O. Ives (1919 – 2003)

From Henry Becton — 5/12/2003

David [Ives] career [with WGBH] spanned four decades. He provided WGBH with leadership and vision, warmth and humor, and a boundless enthusiasm for our mission.

For fourteen years, David served as our president, and he established WGBH as a major force in the public television and radio systems. He oversaw the development of programs that have become cornerstones of American television, including NOVA, Frontline, Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery!, and Evening at Pops, as well as our “how-to” programs, from Julia Child’s cooking shows to This Old House and The Victory Garden. His sense of community assured a place for such series as La Plaza and Say Brother (now Basic Black), and on radio, The Spider’s Web and Morning pro musica became well-known to listeners far beyond Boston.

David came to WGBH in 1960 as director of development, and no one threw himself into garnering support for us the way he did. He became a familiar on-air personality, cheerfully demonstrating umbrellas during pledge drives, writing and performing songs and skits, and even riding an elephant on camera. (He later said that was the most uncomfortable thing he ever did.) And each spring he would trade his signature bow tie for a red apron and urge viewers to “Bid, bid, bid!” during our Auction, an event he created at WGBH in 1966. Broadcasting magazine got it right when they called him “public broadcasting’s super salesman.”

David’s contributions went far beyond our institution. He served on public television boards and advocated in Washington for federal funds. He was awarded public broadcasting’s highest honor, the Ralph Lowell Award, and he received the Governors Award of the New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Before joining WGBH, David enjoyed a prominent career in journalism as a Wall Street Journal reporter, editor, and bureau chief, and an editorial writer for WBZ-TV and radio. None of us escaped his keen editor’s eye, and we all learned from it.

David’s greatest joy came from his family. He loved to pen verses and songs to sing with his children and grandchildren. He often revised lyrics to popular tunes with witty phrases to suit a family occasion, and performed them with great zest. (He was known to do the same for many WGBH occasions as well.) He also was an avid tennis player and loved to sail.

Patsy and David at Reunion 2000

David combined the best of Yankee character with showmanship, journalistic integrity, and self-deprecating humor. He was a national leader, a Boston institution, and a wise and generous mentor. We shall miss him.

One thought on “David O. Ives (1919 – 2003)

  1. My fondest memory of David was an email I received from him once, telling me in his own inimitable fashion that he enjoyed the humor I tried to inject in each issue of QuickNooz. He noted, “I like finding a few raisins in the plum duff.”

    To this day, I’m not entirely sure what a plum duff is or tastes like, only that it can be improved by adding a few raisins. Over his tenure, Ives certainly added more than a few raisins to the GBH culture and to public TV in general. His was a big part of the friendly face of public broadcasting I recall from my youth.

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