Mary Francine Dorham
October 30, 1936
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Education||Xavier University of Louisiana (attended)|
Midwestern Broadcasting School
(Community Development Director; 1983-2008)
(Radio Show Host; 1966-68)
Nicolas Fulop (m. 1999)
Merri Dee (born Mary Francine Dorham; October 30, 1936) is an American philanthropist and former television journalist. Dee is best known for her work at Chicago, Illinois television station and national cable superstation WGN-TV (Channel 9) as an anchor/reporter from 1972 until 1983 and director of community relations from 1983 until 2008. Dee currently serves as president and member of the leadership council of the Illinois chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) since 2009.
Born Mary Francine Dorham in Chicago, Illinois to John Blouin, a postal worker and Ethel Dorham. Her mother went into labor during a trip to Chicago with her husband as they went back and forth between Chicago and New Orleans due to work. The youngest of six children, Dee was raised in New Orleans after her mother's death in 1939 when Dee was two. Dee's father remarried four years after her mother's death. Her stepmother abused her and later sent her to an orphanage, which Dee described in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography about growing up with her stepmother,
"I was terrifically abused by her... She actually adopted me [after Blouin's death] and changed my name so that my family couldn't help me. It was horrible".
Her stepmother changed her name, so family members would not contact her and refused to pay for her education after age 14. Dee returned to Chicago as a teenager, attending Englewood Technical Prep Academy; graduating in 1955. After high school, Dee moved to New Orleans to attend Xavier University, where she was a business administration major; she eventually dropped out to take a job to support her siblings and took a job as a salesperson with IBM. Dee enrolled at Midwestern Broadcasting (now Columbia College) in Chicago to study broadcasting and journalism in the early 1960s, and in 1966 landed her first hosting job at radio station WBEE located in Harvey, Illinois.
During the two years that followed, Dee quickly became a local celebrity in Chicago radio. In 1968, she began hosting an entertainment program that broadcast on then-fledgling independent station WCIU (channel 26) on Saturday nights. In 1971, Dee became the host of The Merri Dee Show, a local talk show on then-independent station WSNS (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station). After a year of recovering from her injuries sustained in a 1971 attack, Dee returned to broadcasting in 1972, becoming an anchor for then-independent station WGN-TV's 10 p.m. newscast. After spending eleven years at WGN-TV in various on-air positions, Dee moved into an off-air position as the station's director of community development and manager of WGN-TV Children's Charities in 1984, where she remained until she retired from the station in the fall of 2008, helping raise $31 million in donations for the station's various charity initiatives during that tenure. Dee subsequently joined the Mayor's Advisory Council on Women for the City of Chicago and became a member of the volunteer Executive Council of the Illinois chapter of AARP, before being appointed AARP State President a year later.
In addition to her television and radio work, Dee has also served in various capacities of several charities and organizations. Dee helped draft the country's first ever Victims' Bill of Rights in 1992, that was passed by Illinois state legislature and served as a model for other states to pass their own victim's rights legislation. She founded the Chicago-based program Athletes for a Better Education. Dee served as the television host of the United Negro College Fund's "Evening of Stars" fundraiser for over two decades, and also hosted telethons benefitting Easter Seals. Dee also developed "The Waiting Child", an on-air segment, broadcast on WGN-TV spotlighting children in the child placement system in need of adoptive homes. The initiative earned Dee several awards, including being honored with the Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2004.
Then-Illinois governor Jim Edgar gave Dee and WGN-TV a commendation in 1998, for helping to increase the number of adoptions in the state by more than 50 percent. In 2000, she was honored with an honorary Doctorate of Humanities by Lewis University; the following year, Dee won the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Silver Circle Award. The University of Illinois' Center on Women and Gender also honored Dee with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003; and in 2004, she was honored with a President's Award by the United Negro College Fund.
Dee has also served as an executive board member for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, Junior Achievement Worldwide and the Associated Colleges of Illinois; board member for The National College Summit and member of the Illinois State Attorney's Council on Violence. In January 2011, Dee became one of six inductees into the National Association of Black Journalists' Hall of Fame.
Dee has been married twice and has two children. Dee first marriage was during her late teen years which produced a daughter, Toya Monet. Dee has been married current husband Nicolas Fulop since 1999. In addition to her daughter, Dee also has a adopted son, Attorney Richard H. Wright.
On July 17, 1971, Dee and a guest on her show, amateur psychic Alan Sandler were kidnapped and shot which resulted in Sandler's death. Upon returning to the WSNS-TV studios after grabbing dinner, Dee and Sandler were approached by 21-year old Samuel Drew while sitting in Dee's car. Drew then made Dee drive to a remote area where he shot both Dee and Sandler twice in the back of their heads at close-blank range, then dumping them out of the car and driving off. Dee managed to crawl to a highway where she was rescued and taken to a hospital, being treated for her wounds. Doctors did not expect Dee to survive from her wounds and twice was given her last rites, including one by personal friend Reverend Jesse Jackson.