After gigs as a radio announcer in Toledo and in her small Ohio hometown, Lana Jones piled her belongings into a Volkswagen Beetle in the late 1970s and left the Rust Belt by herself to look for work in New England.
She made her mark at WBZ NewsRadio, where her smooth, confident voice delivered a broad spectrum of breaking news for almost 30 years. From grisly crime scenes to election night parties, the Boston Marathon, and the arrival of the Tall Ships, Ms. Jones conveyed tragedy and triumph in reliable, eloquent accounts that made her a familiar presence across the region.
“Her voice was memorable. She made it look easy,” said her friend Rod Fritz, a former WBZ news anchor. “She took a story and delivered it in a way that anyone — no matter their background, job, or education — could understand it. She was a great storyteller.”
Ms. Jones, who was part of WBZ’s award-winning coverage of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal and was highly respected by her peers, was 62 when she died Wednesday, just hours after reporting from the wake for New England Patriots play-by-play announcer Gil Santos.
She had collapsed at her home in Worcester and died in UMass Memorial Medical Center. Doctors were unable to repair a tear in her aorta, according to her husband, Steve Jones-D’Agostino.
Public officials, including Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, quickly offered accolades and condolences as they remembered her professionalism and her ever-present WBZ microphone.
“She stood tall on the landscape of Boston news reporting. Bold when chasing a story, compassionate with the people those stories touched, witty in conversation, and always a professional. We’ll all miss her,” Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said.
“I don’t think I ever saw her lose her cool,” said WBUR-FM senior reporter David Boeri. “She was terrific to be around. She had that smile that said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’ ”
Ms. Jones, who had studied special education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, had a kind, patient demeanor. Colleagues say her humility masked a competitive news gatherer who was devoted to bearing witness and informing listeners at a station where the motto is: “The news never stops.”
“Lana was the consummate professional who could take a 100-page Supreme Court decision and boil it down into a concise report for our listeners,” said WBZ program director Bill Flaherty.
She logged tens of thousands of miles every year in her Toyota, zipping from story to story, cranking out hourly reports, often about soul-crushing tragedy: mothers charged with murdering their children, firefighters killed while trying to rescue the homeless, terrorists setting off homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon.
“She was such a gentle person that you didn’t know how tenacious she was,” said former WBZ reporter Karen Twomey, who shared a workstation with Ms. Jones for several years.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Jones immediately pointed her Toyota toward Manhattan, where she was stopped by roadside signs that announced: “New York City Is Closed.” She found back ways to Ground Zero and began reporting from the scene. After days of traipsing the streets amid debris and ash, Ms. Jones decided she should leave her shoes there, her husband said.
When former priest Paul Shanley was released from prison and slipped away from news cameras waiting at his new home, Ms. Jones was the only reporter who thought to head to the Ware Police Department, where Shanley was required to register as a sex offender, Boston Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel recalled. Ms. Jones captured an exclusive that day.
Her motivation stemmed from an interest in social justice and her sense of reporting as a public service. Ms. Jones, who was somewhat reserved and had a dry wit, avoided newsroom gossip and gripe sessions, colleagues said. Her many years of reporting on the sprawling mob saga of James “Whitey” Bulger made her a key resource for younger reporters.
“She was not out for fame or glory — any of that,” Twomey said. “She just wanted to do her job and get it right. She didn’t walk around all saintly though, or anything like that. It was just how she was, and it made other people behave similarly.”
If a competing reporter’s recording equipment failed, Ms. Jones would graciously share sound she gathered from news conferences. Boeri scrolled through a collection of e-mails he exchanged with her over the years and discovered that he had repeatedly said: “Thanks a million, Lana. You’re the best.”
Born in Warren, Ohio, Ms. Jones was the oldest of four siblings. Her father, Robert W. Jones, was elected county judge and worked as a defense attorney. Her mother, Agnes, whose maiden name was Borland, was a nurse.
Ms. Jones met her future husband in 1980 when they both worked in radio in Worcester. When they married in 1983, they combined their last names with a hyphen, an uncommon choice then that threw the county clerk’s computer system, said Steve, who called her “my best friend, the love of my life, and my spiritual partner.”
They enjoyed traveling, especially to Costa Rica, and hosting Thanksgiving dinners. Thanksgiving was Ms. Jones’s favorite holiday, and she spoke lovingly at work about her preparations for the feast. “Her face would light up,” said Twomey.
Ms. Jones, who did not use their hyphenated last name professionally, was a teenager when members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed students during antiwar protests at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Her father volunteered legal assistance during that tumultuous time and Lana begged to go with him to the campus, but he would not take her.
“I know she loved covering the court system partly because it made her feel close to our father,” said her brother Michael. “She made clear to my parents she was carving her own path when she made her way east. She knew what she wanted.”
Ms. Jones left college a few months short of graduation to work in radio in Ohio before leaving for New England. She wound up in Connecticut, where she briefly sold vinyl siding before landing a job at rock station WAAF-FM in Worcester.
In a male-dominated profession, the nickname for positions like the one she held was “news chick,” her husband said. Ms. Jones, however, never wanted to become the comic foil for male hosts. She forged a career as a radio journalist, hosting a weekly talk show at WAAF on youth issues. In 1983, she became a news anchor and reporter in Boston for WMJX-FM and was a reporter for WHDH-AM from 1989 to 1991.
Ms. Jones was “strong-willed, independent, and serious-minded,” her brother said. She expressed love for others through her problem-solving skills. “Well, let’s just figure this out,” she would say in the midst of a crisis.
Her brother said Ms. Jones had hosted a radio show in Toledo that broadcast song dedications. She once played Gloria Gaynor’s anthem “I Will Survive” when he was going home after winning a high school speech tournament. “We heard it on the bus,” recalled Michael, who added that she, too, had won speech contests in high school.
In addition to her husband, Steve, and brother Michael, who lives in Rahway, N.J., Ms. Jones leaves her sister, Terry Klein of Dayton, Ohio, and her other brother, Robert of Warren, Ohio.
A remembrance ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Friday in Mercadante Funeral Home in Worcester. Burial will be private.
“While she may have signed off,” her family said, “her powerful and positive impact on our own stories continues.”J.M. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.