WBZ’s Shelby Scott, who took measure of Boston’s blizzards, dies at 86

Ms. Scott, who spent three decades at Channel 4, where she formed the nation’s first all-woman anchor team with Gail Harris in 1977, died Wednesday in her home in Tucson, Ariz. She was 86 and her health had been declining, said her brother, Rick Schuck.

“Shelby, as much as she would not want me to say it, was a pioneer. She was a trailblazer in journalism,” said Peter Brown, who was Ms. Scott’s news director at WBZ. “She was a mentor. She inspired so many women and men who wanted to work in TV news. I saw her smile at the line from the young reporters: ‘Shelby, I grew up watching you on TV.’ “

A groundbreaking woman in broadcast news in Seattle and Boston, she arrived at WBZ from the West Coast and soon became one of Boston’s most recognizable faces behind an anchor desk and holding a microphone in the field, vanquishing gender barriers from the start. She was the only woman on Boston TV news in 1965, the Globe reported.

And though in later years her winter storm reporting became iconic, “Shelby was much more than a snow reporter,” Brown said. “She loved politics, and animal stories were her favorite. One day she came back to the newsroom after doing a story about tagging bears — she couldn’t stop talking about how she got to hug a bear cub.”

By the end of her career, however, those snowstorms had become the events by which she was most readily identified — by fans who brought her coffee and doughnuts when they spotted her on location, and by many who simply recognized her walking down a street.

For all viewers, seeing Shelby Scott brace herself as snow blew past her face horizontally was a sign that Boston was in for a memorable day.

The Globe even measured storms against Ms. Scott — her height, that is.

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A February 1996 Globe report wondered if it would turn out to be a “2-Shelby winter,” and included the important details: “Total snowfall this season at Logan Airport, through 2 p.m. yesterday: 83.5 inches. Most snowfall on record: 96.3 inches, winter 1993-94. WBZ-TV reporter Shelby Scott: 62 inches tall.”

At that juncture, not long before she retired, Boston’s winter storms meant Shelby Scott.

“People tell me it’s not a storm unless they see me,” she said in the 2001 Globe interview, adding with a throaty laugh: “That’s sweet.”

Born in Seattle on Jan. 6, 1936, Shelby Schuck was the older child and only daughter of Harry Schuck, who worked in building maintenance, and Inga Ring Schuck, a grade-school teacher who was Finnish.

At WBZ, her superiors suggested she change her last name for on-air purposes, and she became Shelby Scott, said her brother, Rick, who lives in Seattle.

As a girl, she often visited her grandparents in Hobart, a half-hour southeast of Seattle.

“She spent a lot of time on my grandpa’s farm. He raised chickens and cows,” Rick said.

Ms. Scott graduated from Franklin High School in Seattle and received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Washington.

Initially, she worked in radio and TV in Seattle, where she launched her on-air career as an reporter and also was a writer, film editor, and documentary film producer.

She recalled in a Globe interview that she was often the only woman reporting on-air in Seattle and sometimes confronted gender discrimination.

“I’d been covering a story of a killer whale caught there,” she told the Globe’s Ellen Goodman in 1971.

“CBS network wanted it. But they said they wanted a man to do it,” she added. “My management there said, ‘Forget it.’ “

Upon arriving at WBZ in 1965, one of her first big stories was covering the Great Northeast Blackout in November 1965, according to Ms. Scott’s bio for the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, into which she was inducted in 2008.

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In 1978, the year after she and Harris became the first all-female anchor team in the country, WBZ ran an “Isn’t Winter Wonderful” display ad in the Globe, which noted that at 5:30 p.m. that day, “Gail Harris and Shelby Scott try on those fabulous furs!”

Aside from the hats she used to alert viewers during storm coverage, Ms. Scott wasn’t fond of the amount of attention that was paid to how women in broadcasting dressed.

“It’s unfair to judge me on what I’m wearing, rather than on my reportorial job,” she said in the 1971 interview.

The Rev. Liz Walker, who arrived at WBZ at the beginning of the 1980s and became the station’s first Black news anchor, recalled that Ms. Scott “was tough, but I think women had to be tough then.”

Ms. Scott “was very capable of handling herself in all kinds of situations. That was before she was doing reports on the weather. That is how she earned her reputation back then,” said Walker, the retired pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church. “She will be missed because she was an icon.”

And whether Ms. Scott was holding her own against fierce winds on a Cape Cod beach or reporting in a high-crime area, “she was afraid of nothing,” said Nat Whittemore, a retired longtime WBZ news photographer. “She was a rugged trouper. She never complained or wanted to quit, just so long as we got a cup of hot coffee once in a while.”

After retiring and eventually settling in Tucson, Ms. Scott returned every summer to New Englandto stay at her vacation cottage on Cushing Island in Maine’s Casco Bay, which overlooked the state’s oldest lighthouse.

“It’s a little house. It looks at the Portland Head right by the water,” said Rick, who is her only immediate survivor. “She just loved it. She’d go there and garden.”

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Plans for a memorial gathering are incomplete, he said.

“She was just a good sister,” said Rick, who recalled a visit to Boston when he was young, during which Ms. Scott took them to a play.

“I remember walking down the street afterward,” he said, “and there were all these people saying, ‘Oh, there’s Shelby Scott!’ “

Along with her work, Ms. Scott was active with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, for which she was a national first vice president and president of the Boston local.

Among her honors were a citation for excellence in broadcasting from the United Press International wire reporting service, an award for journalism excellence from Suffolk University, and an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame College in Manchester, N.H., which has since closed.

In a conversation about five years ago, Ms. Scott’s niece Heather Schuck of Seattle asked her what it was like working in broadcast news in an era when few women were anchors and fewer still were in positions of authority.

“I was just too stupid to know that women weren’t supposed to be on television doing news,” Ms. Scott replied. “Back in those days, they said we weren’t credible. I think I’ve proved them wrong.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.

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