As often as not, those who met Chet Curtis’s family for the first time skipped past praising his tenure as a premier television news anchor and jumped ahead to what they found most appealing about him.
They’d say “your dad’s a great guy,” Dana Curtis Keep, the oldest of his three daughters, recalled Monday morning during her father’s funeral Mass at St. Cecilia Church in the Back Bay.
Mr. Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, his coanchor on WCVB-TV and then his wife, may have been the Boston equivalent of TV news nobility for nearly 30 years, but all who knew him on air or in person seemed to connect most with his genuine nature, and that is what his family celebrated as they bade farewell to a father, grandfather, and companion.
In the ornate historic church, which began filling more than an hour before Mass began, his three daughters and four grandchildren spoke about how Mr. Curtis, who died Wednesday at 74, valued family more than his storied career.
“He always said his daughters were his greatest accomplishment,” said Lindsay Curtis Wynalek, his youngest.
His achievements in the anchor chair brought so much celebrity that his life at times was chronicled as closely as those who were the subject of his reporting. Mr. Curtis, though, “was never happier than when he was in the pilot’s seat of his Beechcraft Bonanza,” said Dawn Curtis Hanley, the second of Mr. Curtis’s daughters, who added that “he used to say flying was his therapy.”
In the prayer of the faithful, Mr. Curtis’s grandchildren Matthew and Ryan Keep and Carlin and Devyn Hanley, gave thanks for his sense of humor and his compassion, for the courage he showed after being diagnosed with cancer, for the music he brought into everyone’s life, and for his lasting gift of friendship.
Among the hundreds who gathered to mourn were many of Mr. Curtis’s close friends and many more who felt a close kinship with an anchorman they had never met.
In the church were faces familiar to those who knew Mr. Curtis’s extended professional families at WCVB, where he spent most of his career, and at New England Cable News, his home for his final on-air years.
Among them were Jim Braude from NECN and a contingent of Channel 5 personnel, past and present, that included news anchors Jim Boyd and Susan Wornick, meteorologists Dick Albert and Harvey Leonard, and sports anchor Mike Lynch.
Also present were some whose careers Mr. Curtis covered, such as US Senator Edward Markey, who estimated the two had known each other for 38 years. “He was the best,” Markey said quietly after Mass concluded.
As mourners entered St. Cecilia’s sanctuary, all walked past a large photograph of Mr. Curtis as a boy, already sporting the smile that would light up TV broadcasts.
His youthful singing voice brought him as far as “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” but it was Mr. Curtis’s speaking voice that landed him jobs in radio and TV, his family wrote in biographical notes for the Mass program.
A love of family may have sprung from losing his own so young. Mr. Curtis was an infant when his mother died, and he was 15 at the time of his father’s death.
“He had a tough life when he was young, but he grabbed on to the rest of life for a great ride,” said the Rev. John J. Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia Church.
“I lost my dad when I was 16,” Unni said during his homily as he directly addressed the children and grandchildren of Mr. Curtis.
“One of the biggest things that helped me was telling stories and hearing others tell stories,” he said, adding: “That whole process heals us. . . . In that simple act of telling a story, God’s grace is there.”
Through the reporting and telling of news stories, Unni said, Mr. Curtis “came into our living rooms in a unique way, on some level became part of the family.”
After Communion, Mr. Curtis’s daughters spoke and invited those at the Mass into the intimacy of their family.
“My father has always been my hero,” said his daughter Dawn, who added that he seemed to be “always overflowing with love.”
Mr. Curtis, she said, took unconditional love “to a whole new level.”
Lindsay brought tears to the eyes of many in the church, including her mother, Natalie Jacobson, when she spoke about how her father’s greatest gift was giving her away at her wedding in June when he was already gravely ill.
“I will be there,” Mr. Curtis had told Lindsay in the hospital a few days before the wedding, she said, wiping a tear from her cheek. “I wouldn’t miss that day for anything.”
At Thanksgiving, about a year after his cancer diagnosis, Mr. Curtis asked to say grace, Dana recalled. “We have so much to be thankful for,” he told his family, who counted his time in their lives as a blessing.
There has never been a day, an hour, or a minute that “I didn’t feel my dad’s love around me,” Dawn said. “And I still do. And I always will.”