scorecardresearch Skip to main content

WBZ-TV’s Bill Shields, who covered the news, and his cancer diagnosis, dies at 70

Mr. Shields out on assignment for WBZ-TV.George Rizer

As an Emmy Award-winning reporter for WBZ-TV, Bill Shields reported from high atop Mount Washington in winter and from the ocean depths off Florida with treasure hunters — and stood in front of cameras during more storms than he’d care to count.

For many viewers, though, the most memorable moments of his 41 years on WBZ aired during the past decade, after his first diagnosis with lung cancer, when he encouraged others to seek treatment and survive with the optimism and humor for which he was known.

“I don’t call myself a journalist,” he said in an interview last fall with Upstage Lung Cancer, which raises awareness and funding for lung cancer research, after he had been treated for a second cancer diagnosis. “I call myself a storyteller.”


Mr. Shields, whose most resonant story was how he used laughter and good cheer to help extend his life after his diagnosis, was 70 when he died Friday in hospice care in his Marshfield home.

Mr. Shields reporting from atop Mount Washington.WBZ-TV

“I’m lucky,” he joked during the Upstage Lung Cancer interview, before receiving the organization’s Fan Award for speaking out publicly about his diagnosis and treatment. “How many people can say they’ve got two different kinds of lung cancer?”

And when his oncologist delivered yet another diagnosis in January, Mr. Shields asked if it was a fatal form of cancer.

“The doctor held out his hands, palms up, and said, ‘They’re all fatal, but you’re you. You’re still walking around,’ ” recalled his wife, Katherine Rossmoore.

Mr. Shields credited the care he received at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute with sending into remission the lung cancer he had been diagnosed with in 2013.

“Those doctors at Dana-Farber, it’s like they say, ‘Cancer is all we do.’ And it’s true,” he said in the Upstage Lung Cancer interview.


But his doctors told him that his attitude also contributed to his post-diagnosis longevity.

When Mr. Shields was cancer-free five years after the first diagnosis — “that’s the golden year, five” — he celebrated the milestone with his wife and team of specialists.

“Everybody’s high-fivin’ — ‘the cancer hasn’t come back,’ ” he recalled.

Mr. ShieldsMatthew Hakola

Then he asked how many patients survive a similar diagnosis “and they said, ‘17 percent,’ ” Mr. Shields recalled. “I said, ‘Well, nothing to do but keep on laughin’.’ ”

A doctor reminded Mr. Shields that everyone knew when he arrived for chemotherapy because his laughter would echo down hallways, and said his upbeat demeanor had contributed to his recovery.

“ ‘That’s probably 50 percent of it,’ ” the doctors told Mr. Shields, “and I said, ‘No, come on,’ and they said, ‘It’s a big part — people’s attitude and sense of humor.’ ”

Mr. Shields “had an amazing ability to tell personal stories with humanity, dignity, and grace,” Justin Draper, president and general manager of WBZ-TV, said in a statement. “Bill was an incredible journalist and storyteller who also made us laugh along the way. Bill was a legend at WBZ.”

Throughout Mr. Shields’s illness, his wife said, “he wasn’t a complainer. He made it easier for others. He always continued to try to be positive and look on the bright side.”

That was true, too, when he was on camera. Mr. Shields brought empathy and compassion to difficult stories, including the delicate task of knocking on the doors of families whose loved ones had died — “the worst thing you have to do as a reporter.”


When he retired in September 2021, WBZ broadcast clips of his reports from around New England. Among them was a dispatch when, after his first cancer diagnosis, he offered fist-bumping encouragement to a young leukemia patient.

Mr. Shields also brought a happy-go-lucky charm to reporting in brutal weather. A dedicated surfer in his early years, he knew what it was like to willingly head out into the elements, though as a youth he was searching for a storm’s big waves.

Bill Shields reporting from the South Shore during a nor'easter.WBZ-TV

“Don’t you love sideways snow? I’ve always loved sideways snow,” he once joked on WBZ from Plymouth.

“The snow’s blowing sideways. Feels like needles going into your face,” he said. “I wish I was surfing today — no I’m just kidding.”

The third of four siblings, William D. Shields grew up in San Antonio. He was born on Aug. 26, 1952, in Cambridge, when his father, John Shields, was doing graduate work at Harvard Business School.

John had served in the Air Force, which sent him to Harvard, and later was comptroller of the government water board in San Antonio. Mr. Shields’s mother, Betty Wayne Shields, was a homemaker who for a time ran an employment agency.

“Bill, as it turns out, was a silver-tongued devil,” said his oldest brother, Bob of Charlottesville, Va. “He could talk his way out of anything, and he did. He had our parents wrapped around his finger.”


Mr. Shields graduated from Jefferson High School, where he played sports and later recalled that he had remained close throughout his life with seven others from their football team — “three of us go back to the first grade.”

As a youth he hoped to eventually work in media.

“It was something I told my parents about in high school. I wanted to be in the middle of the news,” he said in 2021, during WBZ’s piece about his retirement.

“And so it was a dream come true when I got this job,” he added.

Mr. Shields attended San Antonio College before graduating from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

While in college he began processing film at a TV station, where he’d fish news scripts from the garbage can after the nightly broadcasts and then retreat to the darkroom to practice reading aloud to “try to sound like the anchor” and speak without a Texas accent.

He worked for a couple of Texas stations before joining WBZ in 1980.

Mr. Shields, whose first marriage ended in divorce, noticed Katherine Rossmoore, an attorney, one day when he was covering a court case she was involved in.

“He wrote down my name and asked the court officer if I was single,” she recalled.

They married in 1993 and have three sons — Raphael Richter of Truro, from her first marriage; Justin of Somerville; and Tyler of San Diego.


Mr. Shields, she said, “was a good role model. He was a fun-loving guy, but at home he definitely had a powerful influence on the family.”

In addition to his wife, sons, and brother Bob, Mr. Shields leaves another brother, Tom of Kingsland, Texas; a sister, Beth Guastella of New York City; and two grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. March 11 in North River Church in Pembroke.

Mr. ShieldsWBZ-TV

When Mr. Shields retired, he was quick to credit his colleagues, telling the Globe that he had “worked with so many great photographers over the years. It’s a team effort. I don’t tell a story without photographers. I’ve worked with some great ones.”

And during the nearly 10 years since his first cancer diagnosis, he and his wife formed a team of two.

“She never left my side, never missed an appointment, even after I told her, ‘You don’t need to go. They’re putting the needles in me,’ ” Mr. Shields told Upstage Lung Cancer. “She said, ‘No, I want to be there.’ She’s my angel on earth.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at