Former WGEM Anchor, Lesley Swick Van Ness, Dies Suddenly While on Vacation With Family: “She Was the Picture of Health, Positivity and Energy”

Lesley Swick Van Ness was vacationing with her family in Florida when she suddenly fell ill and died at the age of 42. Additional details regarding her cause of death have yet to be revealed, but her death was confirmed by WGEM-TV – a local news station where she worked for 13+ years between 2003 and 2016. 

According to WGEM, she was hospitalized on April 6 while vacationing during the Easter holiday but later succumbed to her sudden illness four days later. She is being described as a local celebrity who loved her community and enjoyed bringing the best out of those she encountered – professionally and personally. 

“It is with a very heavy heart that we share some devastating news with you. Lesley Van Ness, who we have been so fortunate to have as part of the Gray family, passed away this (Monday) morning,” Jennifer Dale, the vice president of recruiting at Gray Television (where Van Ness worked), wrote in a statement. 

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According to her obituary, Lesley Swick Van Ness graduated from Illinois State University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science Cum Laude. She joined WGEM as an intern in 2003 and received a series of promotions over the next seven years – from weekend anchor to anchor of all three evening broadcasts.

She spent 13 years at WGEM before undergoing a career change in 2016. She became a recruitment specialist for Quincy Media – the corporate company for WGEM – and remained with them after Quincy was acquired by Gray Television in 2021. 

“She created the foundation and blueprint for fellowship programs, paid internships, and opportunities for future journalists in over 113 television markets across the United States. Students in the hunt for careers in journalism sought Lesley out specifically as she fought and taught for students in their journey to become journalists,” her obituary reads.

Aside from her work, Lesley Swick Van Ness was a devoted wife to Thomas Van Ness and a loving mother to two young boys – Sterling Thomas Van Ness (born in 2014) and Cameron Lyle Van Ness (born in 2016). Her primary goal in life was to ‘raise the most well-rounded young men they could.’ 

Colleagues and Friends Remember Lesley Swick Van Ness

Lesley Swick Van Ness was beloved by everyone she came across and is being remembered as a consummate professional who dedicated herself to her work and family. She was always quick to take the shirt off her back if someone needed it and was always putting others’ needs before her own. 

“She wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work and wasn’t afraid to work the extra hour, especially if it was something that was really impacting the community,” a meteorologist at WGEM said, while another colleague described her as an ‘awesome human’ who ‘was the picture of health, positivity and energy.’ 

“She didn’t ask for anything in return. She loved helping the younger generation of news people, especially women. She was a true cheerleader,” said news anchor Jenise Rebholz. The Gray Television and WGEM family are heartbroken over her loss and are having a hard time believing she’s really gone. 

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According to her obituary, there won’t be any formal visitation, but a service is being held on Monday, April 17 at 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s Anglican Parish. She’s being buried at Woodland Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois and there will be a celebration of her life at a later date. Our hearts go out to her family and friends.

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