44-year newscaster Diana Lewis plans retirement from WXYZ-Channel 7

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Courtesy of Crain’s Detroit Business

Diana Lewis, a fixture on WXYZ-Channel 7‘s evening newscast, will retire in October after 44 years on television, she told Crain’s Tuesday afternoon.

The Detroit ABC affiliate will announce her decision today.

Lewis, 69, will co-anchor the station’s 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. “Action News with JoAnne Purtan” for the final time Oct. 4, she said. No replacement has been announced.

She joined WXYZ on July 4, 1977, and co-anchored the evening news with Bill Bonds. She left the station for a few years in the mid-1980s before returning to Detroit.

Diana Lewis

“I am very excited, very grateful. I thank God I am healthy, I feel good. I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I did it my way,” she said. “I can look in the mirror and say, ‘I am fulfilled.’ It’s been 44 years. It’s time for a new chapter for me. I want to relax and cook and do some things with my husband.”

Lewis’ two-year contract is up in September, but she said that didn’t play a role in her decision to retire. She said she and her husband thought her last deal, signed in September 2010, was likely going to be her last.

The Pennsylvania native began her TV career in 1968 as host of the African-American community issues show “Black Book” on Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV — filling in unexpectedly for Maya Angelou, who had become ill. Lewis later worked as a weekend news anchor and consumer reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

It was a consumer affairs story for KABC on prickly burrs inside cans of refried beans — she opened a can inside a grocery store to show the burrs, which got her and the cameraman tossed out, but the product recalled —that caught the attention of actor Sylvester Stallone, who called her to audition for a TV news reporter role in his 1976 film “Rocky.” She also appeared in 1990′s “Rocky V” as a reporter.

Television personality Regis Philbin, then co-host of KABC’s “A.M. Los Angeles” local morning talk show and Lewis’ close friend, was sitting next to her when Stallone called and volunteered to be her agent, she said.

Lewis’ other television roles have included appearances, usually as a TV reporter, on “All My Children,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Hunter.”

Lewis and her husband, Glenn, have two daughters: Donna, who works at Henry Ford Hospital, and Glenda, a reporter and anchor at WXYZ.

Diana and Glenda Lewis became the first mother-daughter team to anchor a newscast when they did the 11 p.m. telecast on Mother’s Day 2004.

The awards Lewis has received during her career include two Silver Circle Awards and two Emmy Awards from the Michigan Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences and the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

She was inducted into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Her community causes have included women’s and children’s issues and the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, American Heart Association, City of Hope and Focus: HOPE.

Lewis attributed her longevity and success to being genuine.

“I’m not just a robot sitting there. The audience has figured me out. They know after the camera goes off, they know I’m sitting somewhere with a tissue wiping the tears,” she said. “I was always fair and objective. I said what I felt. I think for 44 years, it has worked for me.”

The station plans to highlight her career with to-be-announced events and programming in August and September.

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