Wendy Rieger, the long-time former co-anchor of the 5 o'clock hour of Washington, D.C.'s NBC station, WRC-TV, died Saturday morning from brain cancer, the station announced Saturday afternoon. The news came one day after NBC Washington announced Rieger had entered hospice. The beloved journalist was a fixture in the D.C. media scene for more than 40 years. In that time, she had proven herself to be a strong ally for and staunch defender of LGBTQ+ causes.
After news of her death spread, media companies, elected officials, professional sports teams, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and viewers flooded social media with words of grief, causing her name to trend nationally on Twitter.
The 65-year-old journalist was especially beloved in the LGBTQ+ community, playing host for special events at many local and national LGBTQ+ organizations.
Rieger devoted much of her time to to SMYAL, an organization that works with LGBTQ+ youth to provide services that support their development and was involved with Washington's Gay Men's Chorus and other causes.
His friendship with Rieger began in 2004 when she stepped into the bar space called Dito's Bar, of which he's the proprietor, inside Floriana, he said.
"She would often come in for a pre-news dinner," he tells The Advocate. "And since she loved her wine, we would always open the nice bottle for Wendy.."
NBC Washington assistant news director Matt Glassman tells The Advocate that Rieger was often asked to participate in community events, but her greatest pleasure came from her dedication to the LGBTQ+ community.
"For decades, Wendy took great pride in making sure all people felt they mattered, and she did that in her unique style that involved authenticity, compassion, and an oversized dose of humor," Glassman says. "Wendy always said those were the safest spaces to her, and she just lit up a room when she addressed the crowd."
In 2020, Rieger shared her journey of recovery from open-heart surgery with viewers. Several months later, she announced that she had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. In December, she retired and said she was looking forward to her future.
Doreen Gentzler, NBC Washington's long-time senior primetime anchor, participated in the D.C. AIDS Ride with Rieger and wrote a heartfelt tribute to her friend and former colleague in which she detailed Rieger's final months.
"She had surgery and treatment, then retired in December with an intent to savor the rest of her life and start a new chapter," Gentzler wrote. "Her cancer returned aggressively several weeks ago, and she died this morning, holding the hand of her husband, Dan."
"I knew there was something in my head," Rieger told the Washington Blade. "So, I was an advocate for myself in the bitchiest way, and I got into an MRI really fast."
SMYAL's interim executive director Daniel Penchina mourned Rieger's death in a statement to The Advocate.
"Wendy Rieger's passing is an incredible loss, not only for the D.C. community at large but for the LGBTQ community who says goodbye to such an incredible ally today," he said. "Wendy was not just a friend to our community, she was a vibrant and beloved member of the SMYAL family."
Former Houston mayor and current president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund Annise Parker also shared her reflections of Rieger in a statement to The Advocate.
"Our hearts are heavy with the passing of our colleague and friend, Wendy," Parker said. "Throughout her career, she always championed equality and LGBTQ rights, even at a time when her decision went against the grain. Her legacy of love and acceptance will continue to live on and inspire for years to come."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed her sadness about Rieger's passing, writing, "I'm heartbroken over one of D.C.'s most beloved anchors, Wendy Rieger. Wendy delivered the news honestly -- with humor, heart, & expertise, and she will be missed dearly. Our hearts are with Dan, her [NBC Washington] family, and the many, many people who loved Wendy."
When she wasn't on television, speaking at an event, or enjoying the home she proudly built in the picturesque Rappahannock County region of Virginia, Rieger was known to frequent local hotspots popular with the LGBTQ+ community.
Rieger's 33-year-long career at NBC Washington began in 1988 as a reporter. In 1998 she was promoted to weekend evening anchor and in 2001 she began presenting the 5 p.m. weekday newscast. She earned multiple Emmys for her work.
"She gave us all of the stories that we had come to know as Washingtonians with grace, candor, and integrity," Sevilla says.
In addition to her compassion, Rieger was well known for her on-and-off camera sense of humor.
In 2015, she was named best local anchor and participated in a photo shoot for the Washington Blade's Best of Gay D.C. issue, and famously straddled a drag queen.
Sevilla says that she told him that her bosses might not like it, but she'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission.
He also recalls that in 2012, while reporting on Hurricane Sandy from the Delaware town of Rehoboth Beach, which is popular with LGBTQ+ vacationers, she purposely used a pun as a nod to her gay friends.
During a live shot, she explained that chief meteorologist Doug Kammerer had warned her about conditions earlier and noted that the storm had intensified.
"Doug called me an hour ago and said, 'get ready,' and bam! This thing is, like, pounding us from behind!" she exclaimed.
Associate editor at the Washington Post and anchor of MSNBC's The Sunday Show, Jonathan Capehart, who is gay, put it simply, "Always kind. Always fun. Always in our corner. RIP Wendy Rieger."
*Based on a statement from a Victory Fund press secretary, this story previously said that Riegler spoke at the Human Rights Campaign, Capital Pride, and the Victory Fund events. She did not. We have updated the text.