Always a journalist first, Mary Richardson cast an appraising eye on Boston’s TV news scene when she moved from the capital of California to the capital of Massachusetts in 1978 to become a pioneering woman anchoring WNAC-TV’s nightly newscasts.
“My first impression was that news was somehow duller here,” she recalled in a 1981 Globe interview. “In California, news is much slicker, faster-paced. They’re much more into the reporter who can hang-glide or jump on trampolines.”
A groundbreaking, award-winning, and frequently adventurous co-anchor and cohost of WCVB-TV’s “Chronicle” for more than a quarter century, Ms. Richardson died early Friday, her family said. She was 76, lived in Belmont, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease seven years ago.
In 1981, she said that after leaving Sacramento behind to join Channel 7′s news team, she “began to appreciate the fact that in Boston, there was a lot more emphasis on content and care in writing.”
That said, she didn’t confine her reporting and broadcasting to sitting at a desk or speaking into a camera in the TV studio.
After she moved to WCVB-TV, Channel 5, in 1980, her assignment destinations included China and Cuba, Egypt and Greece, and her ancestors’ homeland of Ireland.
“I swam with a baby whale in the wild,” she told the Globe in 2002. “I learned to ice-climb and drag-race.”
Peter Mehegan, her longtime “Chronicle” cohost, recalled that “she was a newsperson first and foremost professionally. She was a good reporter, she knew how to tell a story, she was a fine writer, and she could deliver a story as well as anybody. And she was fearless.”
Once in a Costa Rican rainforest, a cameraman had to climb a tall tree for a shot. She didn’t remain safely behind on the forest floor.
“Mary shimmied all the way up to the top,” Mehegan said.
Ms. Richardson was inducted in 2011 into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, which noted that when WNAC hired her in 1978, “she became the first female in Boston to co-anchor an 11 o’clock newscast. She quickly established herself as one of Boston’s most popular local television journalists.”
Along with her news duties, Ms. Richardson cohosted each year’s “Holiday at Pops!” concert in Symphony Hall for more than a decade, and also cohosted “Pops Goes the Fourth!” at the Hatch Shell.
She wore such celebrity lightly, however, and focused on news.
“Mary was old school, as I was, both starting out in the news business,” said Mehegan, who added that stories now circulating among former colleagues include an anecdote about a time that the only way she could secure a sought-after interview with a crime suspect in Maine was to climb onto a roof with a cameraman and slip into the house through a window.
“The very fact that she would scale a roof and go in through a window to get a story kind of spoke volumes about how persistent and dogged she was,” he said.
The middle child and only girl among three siblings, Mary Claire Creehan was born in Lawrence, Kan., in 1945, the daughter of Ed Creehan, a career Navy officer, and Mary Rita Wager Creehan, a schoolteacher.
She grew up mostly in San Mateo, Calif., graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor’s degree in English, and initially taught high school English.
Returning to school, she received a master’s in communications from California State University in Sacramento.
In 1973, she began her TV career in Sacramento at KCRA-TV, where within two years she was co-anchoring the 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
After two years at WNAC in Boston, she moved to WCVB, where she hosted the weekly interview show “This Week.”
Memorably, she asked such tough questions when Mayor Kevin White was her guest that his aides complained to management afterward that he hadn’t anticipated that kind of interview.
Though known by friends and colleagues for her generosity and kindness, Ms. Richardson didn’t hesitate to ask “a tough or embarrassing question,” she told the Globe in 1981. “I’m not that sweet that I’m afraid of hurting somebody’s feelings.”
She joined “Chronicle” in 1984, cohosting for about two decades with Mehegan and finishing her tenure with Anthony Everett. She retired in 2010.
Along with many regional Emmy Awards, Ms. Richardson’s honors included receiving the first Tim Russert Award from Boston Health Care for the Homeless, in 2010, and the Pinnacle Award from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce for Lifetime Achievement the same year. Regis College awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2009.
When someone who aspired to work in the television field called, “Mary would never cut that person off,” Mehegan said. “She’d spend a half hour on the phone with that person. But beyond that, a day or two later, that person would be in the station and Mary would be giving them a tour and maybe suggesting job options.”
Ms. Richardson, whose first two marriages ended in divorce, had been married since 1989 to Stan Leven, a former longtime senior producer for “Chronicle.”
“She was just a force of nature,” he said. “She was always in motion, always available to her fans and her family.”
He added that she was the same off-camera as on the air: “Warm, kind. She was loved by so many people.”
Her son Christopher Murphy of Washington, D.C., said that “she just loved kids, she loved being a mom, and she loved being a teacher to us and helping us better understand the world.”
Sometimes she would “take us on stories she was covering because she wanted to expose us to what she was learning,” he added.
“We were all really proud that we had a mom who was on TV,” Christopher said. “Even as kids, we knew it was really special to have your mom as a woman in the industry. She broke a lot of barriers.”
Funeral services will be private for Ms. Richardson, who in addition to her husband, Stan, and son Christopher leaves a daughter, Jessie Richardson of Sacramento; another son, Matthew Leven of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.
Ms. Richardson considered what she called “the cosmetic aspect of the job” — the makeup, hairstyling, and clothes that viewers often commented on when she ran into them on the street — to be the least interesting part of her work.
“For me it’s a pain,” she said in 1981. “I did not spend my teenage years reading Seventeen and Vogue and Glamour.”
Ms. Richardson believed strongly in giving back to the community by volunteering to read stories to children at Horizons for Homeless Children in Boston and working with Boston Health Care for the Homeless and other agencies.
“She thought it was part of her calling,” her husband said. “She would want to walk the streets with those ministering to the homeless because for her, everything was from the heart.”
As her Alzheimer’s progressed and she moved into memory care assisted living at Avita of Needham, her commitment to others didn’t fade.
“She always found a way to communicate,” her husband said. “Even at the end she would hold your hand and look at you with those blue eyes that could melt the sun.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.