Russ Bensley shows the Emmy Award he received for his work as a news producer. (Chronicle file photo)
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Russ Bensley, former producer of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, dead at 92

Robert “Russ” Bensley of Flossmoor, an Emmy Award winning newsman and longtime producer who worked with Walter Cronkite at CBS, died on Aug. 9. He was 92.

Russ Bensley shows the Emmy Award he received for his work as a news producer. (Chronicle file photo)
Russ Bensley shows the Emmy Award he received for his work as a news producer. (Chronicle file photo)

Mr. Bensley’s long career in journalism spanned decades following his graduation from Northwestern University where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. The Chicago native commuted from his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood to the Evanston campus.

Mr. Bensley’s career began in radio. Eventually he moved on to the WBBM-TV station, where he wrote and anchored the late-night news broadcast. Pat Bannon watched his broadcast while sitting at Wally’s Tap in Homewood; she would meet him in person and then marry him almost 20 years later. 

He made his national news television debut doing “man on the street” interviews following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The CBS network then brought him to New York, quickly making him a producer (eventually executive producer) of “The CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite. In 1968, he took a crew to cover the Vietnam War, got shot, and then evacuated to a hospital that was then bombed.

“Not a great day,” as he put it.  

In 1971, he won the first of four Emmy Awards for his work on the groundbreaking documentary, “The World of Charlie Company,” for CBS. 

After his time on the Evening News, he headed the Special Events Unit covering events that included the space shuttle launches, royal weddings, presidential campaign conventions and elections. He recently told his family he loved special events because he wanted to be where the action was.

He was the executive producer of “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” which he enjoyed for the interesting and uplifting stories. He also taught journalism courses as a guest teacher in a variety of settings, including Columbia University in New York.

After his retirement from CBS in 1985, he continued remote work for CBS for almost three years, putting together a videocassette series, “The Vietnam War with Walter Cronkite.”

When Mr. Bensley retired full-time, he moved with his wife and daughter, Vickie Stevenson, to Niles, Michigan, where they raised Morgan horses until 2003. 

After horse-farming, he focused on his family. He and his wife moved to Homewood in 2003 and he remained there until 2014 when he moved in with his daughter and son-in-law, Ryan, and grandsons Andrew and Ryan.

Mr. Bensley is survived by his children Skip Bensley, Robin Arena, and Vicki Stevenson; his grandchildren CJ, Sabrina, Jordan, Sarah, Andrew and Ryan, as well as his twin brother, Edward Bensley. His wife, Pat, died in 2009.

A private memorial service will be held at a later date. Mr. Bensley’s family suggests donations in his name to the South Suburban Humane Society as the best way to honor his memory. Many of his beloved pets came from SSHS.

The Chronicle featured Mr. Bensley in a column written by Tom Houlihan.

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