Anyone arriving in heaven this week may see a sign on the Pearly Gates posted by St. Peter, reading, “Be back in a few days. Teddy Elbert is here and it’s simply too much fun!”
Ted Elbert, veteran NBC Network News Producer and Foreign Bureau Chief, died this week at his home in Terre Haute, Ind., following an illness. He was born Theodore Paul Elbert, in Chicago, but everyone called him “Teddy.” When he graduated from the University of Illinois with a journalism degree, Uncle Sam grabbed him up and he found himself in the U.S. Army. He persuaded Army poohbahs that with his college degree, he could best serve his country with a radio program on Armed Forces Radio from downtown Chicago — and “Army Reserve Time with Pvt. Ted Elbert” hit the air waves. In the ’50’s, Chicago night clubs featured big stars like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Ted took his tape recorder to the clubs and, after the shows, Ted interviewed the artists and got them to do a spot to join the Army. Those interviews made his radio show a big hit and he realized he was a really good interviewer. After his hitch in the Army, he signed on with CBS News, then on to NBC Network News and he never looked back.
He became a field producer for NBC out of the Chicago Bureau, covering an area south all the way to New Orleans, east to West Virginia and west to Colorado. He always said he had the best job in the world because whenever he went to a party and people were talking about the big event of the day — he was the one who had just returned from there with that story — plane crashes, tornadoes, explosions, coal strikes, presidential campaigns, the Americans defeating the Russians in the Lake Placid Winter Olympics to win hockey’s Gold Medal and extended coverage of the American Indian Movement standoff against the FBI at Wounded Knee, South Dakota — the biggest stories of those times.
In 1978, he was named NBC Network Bureau Chief in Frankfurt, Germany. His fluency in the German language had come from his father, a first-generation German-American Lutheran minister who preached sermons in German. Teddy quickly won the hearts of the camera and audio crews and support people all over Europe, and correspondents clamored to work with him. Big stories during those years included the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, and OPEC Oil Crisis and the rise of the Polish shipyard workers union under the leadership of Lech Walesa.
Three and a half years later, he was awarded the coveted title Bureau Chief of NBC News, Paris, France, during the Reagan presidency, at which time the Iranian immigrants began an uprising in Paris. He was assigned to cover unrest in the black townships outside Johannesburg, South Africa, the Olympics in Seoul Korea and ship wrecks in the North Sea.
As Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev instituted the policy of glasnost in the U.S.S.R., it became the hottest news story worldwide and NBC assigned their go-to guy, Ted Elbert, to be the Moscow Bureau Chief. Ted and his crew pumped out stories nearly every evening for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, bringing to America the democratization of the Soviet Union.
When he returned to the United States, he worked out of 30 Rockefeller Center on news magazine programs, including “Dateline NBC.” Whenever new network correspondents were hired on, they were assigned to the tutelage of Teddy Elbert to learn to do things the right way. Among those entrusted to his care: Jim Avila, Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill, Anne Thompson, David Gregory and Brian Williams.
In 1997, he was awarded the National News and Documentary Emmy for Outstanding General Coverage of a Single Breaking News Story for the Grand Forks, North Dakota, Flood. He and correspondent David Bloom covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw for one whole year, and his was the first network news crew at the scene of the arrest of the Unabomber. The total number of national and international news stories he covered is impossible to know, but certainly in the thousands.
He moved to Terre Haute 20 years ago with his wife, Vicki Weger. It was her hometown and she said she doubted she could keep him in the smaller city very long after his years in the great cities of Europe, but the people of Terre Haute fell in love with him and adopted him and he loved them in return. He had brought the European custom of kissing a woman’s hand back to the States with him which made him a very popular man about town. They would almost line up – hands extended – when they knew Teddy Elbert was in the room.
Though he was an alumnus of the University of Illinois, he became a fan of the Indiana State University Men’s Sycamore Basketball team and it wasn’t long before you might drop in at his home at meal time and find several ball players or coaches having supper with him. Sycamore basketball became his biggest pastime and he became their biggest booster. He was particularly impressed that the ISU basketball scholarship program provides financial assistance to young athletes who might never be able to afford college without that scholarship. He made it to every home game and almost every practice and took great pride in the success of those young men after they graduated.
Professional accolades aside, his colleagues, friends and family will tell you, it was his wonderful love of life, his belief in God, his sense of fairness, a respect for every human being, his ability to see good in everyone, love for his children, adoration for his grandchild and his absolute devotion to his wife that set him apart. He loved all things Chicago – the Cubbies and Wrigley field, da Bears, Chicago Beef Sandwich, Vienna hot dogs – never with ketchup. Upon the news of his death, tributes poured in from around the world from legendary journalists declaring their admiration and love for him.
He is survived by his wife, Vicki Weger, who considers herself the luckiest girl in the world. He has a son, Steve Elbert, of Melrose Park, Ill., daughter, Jeanne Elbert of Bloomington, Ill.; daughter and son-in-law, Linda Elbert and Michael Amidei of Chicago; daughter, Melanie Elbert Buck, Okeechobee, Fla.; and grandson, Jonathon Elbert, Aurora, Ill., and Christopher Amidei of Chicago.
A celebration of life of Teddy Elbert will be held on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at The Landing in Fort Harrison, 3350 North 4th Street, Terre Haute. A gathering of family and friends will be from 12 noon until 1 p.m. with sharing of stories and memories at 1 p.m., luncheon will follow. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Ted Elbert to ISU Men’s Basketball, Suite 106, 401 North 4th, Terre Haute, IN 47809. Online condolences may be made at: