One April morning in 1990, Uma Pemmaraju was inside Star Market in Brighton with her WBZ-TV camera crew, preparing a feature for the station’s “Evening Magazine” program, when two masked gunmen barged in and shouted: “Don’t anybody move!”
Did she panic? Not a bit, even though the men — wearing masks that evoked the Freddy Krueger character in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror movies — brandished a shotgun and handgun while rifling the store’s safe and escaping with the cash.
All the while, Ms. Pemmaraju was focusing on her work. “I kept thinking to myself, how do I get footage,” she told the Boston Globe later. That wasn’t possible, though, because the crew had placed the camera in a shopping cart. Attracting attention by aiming it at the gunmen seemed like a bad idea.
“I’ve been sent out to crime locations before, but this was the first time one came to me,” she said. “These guys were loose cannons. It was truly weird — like watching a movie.”
A former prominent Boston broadcast journalist, Ms. Pemmaraju went on to become one of the Fox News Channel’s founding anchors. She was 64 when she died in her Ossining, N.Y., home.
WBZ announced her death on Aug. 8, and Ms. Pemmaraju’s daughter, Kirina Petkun, did not disclose a cause while speaking with The New York Times.
In a statement to Fox News, which the organization posted online Aug. 9, Petkun said that “the sudden death of my mother, Uma Pemmaraju, has been deeply devastating and incredibly shocking and unexpected. She was a light who brought so much compassion and inspiration to those around her. Journalism truly defined who my mother was.”
A pioneering Indian American among Boston’s broadcast journalists and across the country, when she joined Fox News, Ms. Pemmaraju “was the only South Asian face on American national TV news, I remember fondly from ‘90s,” Reena Ninan, a journalist who has worked for CBS, Fox News, and ABC, tweeted.
“What amazed me most was her kindness when I joined Fox News as a reporter,” Ninan said. “She was a friend to all.”
Ms. Pemmaraju arrived in Boston in 1984 to work at WLVI-TV, Channel 56, and was quickly ascendant in broadcast circles. Boston magazine called her a “face to watch.”
She began filling in as co-anchor of WLVI’s 10 p.m. newscast, with Jack Hynes, in March 1986 and was named permanent co-anchor two months later.
The following year, she received a Matrix Award for women in communications, which recognizes women who are role models in their professions.
Then in early 1988, she told the Globe that WLVI had not renewed her contract. For a while, she contributed freelance pieces to WBZ’s “Evening Magazine,” taught at Emerson College and Harvard University, and worked locally for Monitor Television as an anchor and correspondent.
Between her reporting jobs at WLVI and WBZ, she also was interviewed by network television news organizations, and said that at one point she was under consideration to become a feature reporter and occasional anchor for “Good Morning America.”
Ms. Pemmaraju considered her options carefully.
“I don’t want to spend all my time sitting behind a desk,” she told the Globe in 1989. “I want to get out and do stories about interesting people and interesting issues. I’d also like to keep teaching in some capacity — I truly enjoy it.”
In 1993, WBZ hired her full-time as a general assignment reporter and fill-in anchor.
“They’ve really been supportive, and have let me do more human interest stories, like about kids, and I feel that’s a niche I want to carve out for myself,” she told the Globe in 1993, adding that she wanted to report on “what people say about the world around them. I like to think of myself as a storyteller, rather than the story.”
Born on March 31, 1958, in Rajahmundry, India, Uma Devi Pemmaraju was the daughter of Rao and Rani Pemmaraju.
She told the Globe in 1993 that the family left India when her father, Rao, a research scientist specializing in birth control, went to Texas to direct a population studies foundation.
Ms. Pemmaraju said that although her mother was from a prominent Indian family, Rani tried to balance her desire to instill Indian cultural values in her daughter and two sons with allowing them to grow up as Americans.
With no Hindu temple to attend in San Antonio, the family sought out Swami Satchidananda, who was “more than just a spiritual teacher to my family,” Ms. Pemmaraju told the Globe in 1993. “To me, he’s more like a grandfather. He’s my confidant and I can tell him my innermost thoughts. He helped my family bridge the gap between Indian and American culture.”
She said she drew inspiration to pursue journalism from her grandfather, a newspaper publisher in south India. As a girl, she wrote daily diary entries about world events.
Ms. Pemmaraju worked at a local newspaper and Texas television stations in her late teens, her years as a college student, and beyond. She graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, where she studied political science and government, and was a TV reporter in Texas before heading to Baltimore, where she was awarded an Emmy for her reporting.
In Boston, she was awarded two more Emmys while working at WBZ.
She met Andrew Petkun, the president of Allen Furniture in Needham, at a 1986 society event celebrating India. They dated until marrying in a 1993 ceremony that drew media attention.
When Ms. Pemmaraju began working for Fox News, Petkun sold his business and they moved to New York, where they had a daughter, Kirina. Their marriage later ended in divorce.
In 2018, she left Fox News to work at Bloomberg News, according to her LinkedIn page.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Uma Pemmaraju, who was one of FOX News Channel’s founding anchors and was on the air the day we launched,” Suzanne Scott, chief executive of FOX News Media, said in a statement released to the media. “Uma was an incredibly talented journalist as well as a warm and lovely person, best known for her kindness to everyone she worked with.”
Complete information about survivors and a memorial service were not immediately available. According to the Times, Ms. Pemmaraju leaves her daughter, her former husband, and her brothers, Rama and Sankar.
Ms. Pemmaraju always saw her work as more than just a reporter and anchor.
“I’m a conduit to help other people. I don’t want to sound too sentimental. But that’s what I’m about. I want to use my celebrity to help people, to help bring about something that needs to be done,” she told the Globe in 1993, while working for WBZ.
“I’d love to be on a magazine show on the networks, or have my own production company,” she said. “Maybe I’ll consult on how to do wonderful television. I’d love to do children’s television. I think we’re entering an era where children are taken more seriously. I’d love to develop programming that meets their needs, where they are not just thought of just as kids.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.