Eleanor Schano, Trailblazing Journalist in Pittsburgh, Dies at 88

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

In the male-dominated world of broadcast news in the 1950s and ‘60s, Eleanor Schano became the first solo woman television news anchor in Pittsburgh. It was only one of several television firsts by Ms. Schano in that city during a six-decade career.

She was Pittsburgh’s first woman television “weather girl,” in the language of the 1950s. She pushed hard to become its first female television reporter. Ms. Schano went on to be the host of a variety of talk shows on several of the city’s radio and television outlets.

She died in Pittsburgh on Nov. 9 of complications of Covid-19, her daughter Lorie Berrick said. She was 88.

Ms. Schano began her pathbreaking anchor job, on WIIC-TV (now WPXI), in 1969 and held the spot until 1974. At the time, women news anchors — even correspondents — were rare on both the local and national level.

The winner of numerous local awards, Ms. Schano (SHAY-no) received a lifetime achievement Emmy in 2009 from the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, joining earlier recipients like Fred Rogers.

In a steadfastly sexist profession, she constantly defied conventional wisdom about a woman’s role in television journalism. Having been warned, for example, that she would never hold a prime anchor position if she got pregnant, she had three children over the course of her career, hiding her pregnancy each time, and getting back to work after just two weeks’ time off.

During one of those hidden pregnancies, in 1958, she was even corralled into doing the 11 p.m. weather in bed wearing a negligee: a mattress company sponsored the news show.

“You couldn’t use the word pregnant on the air,” she said in a 2007 interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “And God forbid if you were pregnant.”

She delivered the weather forecast one Friday night and gave birth to her daughter Lorie the next day.

Well past the time when many women television journalists retired, she was still hosting her own health and lifestyle show, WQED-TV’s “LifeQuest,” until 2007, when it was canceled after a 16-year run. She was back on the air the next year with “Live Well/Live Long with Eleanor Schano,” a periodic short segment on the noon news on WTAE that ran until 2009.

Eleanor Martha Schano was born in Pittsburgh on July 31, 1932. Her father, Joseph J. Schano, owned a brick supply company; her mother, Eleanor Schano, kept the books.

She took her first television job in 1951 as a weather girl and announcer, modeling clothes as part of the job, while a student at Duquesne University. She graduated with a degree in journalism in 1954.

In the 2007 Post-Gazette interview, she spoke of her love for words and the impact television had on her — and her father’s skepticism.

“When I saw this medium, where people were going to be able to speak on television, I just knew this was going to be great,” she said. “My dad said it’s never going to work. He said, `Do you think Eleanor, anybody is going to sit around in a room and stare at a box?’”

Her first husband, Warren Dana, died in 1969. In the early 1980s she married John M. Feeney, a lawyer and judge, who died in 2011.

Along with Ms. Berrick, Ms. Schano is survived by her daughter Jennifer Welch, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She is also survived by a sister, Clare Donahue.

Ms. Schano said she had wanted to be news reporter early on, even though there were none in television news, according to notes Ms. Berrick found on her mother’s iPad after her death.

“Women like me stood alone,” she wrote. “No role model. No mentor. Just sheer determination and perseverance.”

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