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42-year-old former news anchor dies suddenly while on vacation with her family

Lesley Swick-Van Ness passed away on Monday, April 10.
Lesley Swick Van Ness was a former anchor for WGEM in Illinois. 
Lesley Swick Van Ness was a former anchor for WGEM in Illinois. WGEM

A former Illinois news anchor passed unexpectedly while on vacation with her family. She was 42.

According to NBC affiliate WGEM, Lesley Swick Van Ness was vacationing with her family when she suddenly became ill and was taken to a hospital on April 6. By the following Monday, April 10, she had died. The obituary for Van Ness stated that she passed away in Naples, Florida.

According to her LinkedIn page, Van Ness carved out a career for herself at WGEM, starting as a reporter in 2003. By 2006, she became a weekend anchor. In 2008, she served as a weekday evening anchor. In 2016, she became a corporate recruiter for Quincy Media — a media company that was acquired by Gray Television in 2021.

On April 12, Jennifer Dale, the vice president of recruiting at Gray Television, issued a statement regarding her death to Muddy River News.

“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,” said Dale’s statement. “Lesley and her husband Tom have two precious young boys. Please keep all of them in your prayers. We will keep everyone posted on arrangements.”

Van Ness’s also former colleagues reflected on her career during an April 12 segment of the show.

Anchor Natalie Will touched on her working relationship with Van Ness, sharing that the two started at WGEM on the same day as interns. While speaking about her late co-worker, Will became visibly upset.

“Lesley was a phenomenal journalist. She was a leader in the newsroom,” she remarked before tearing up. “Sorry... I didn’t think this was going to be hard.”

Another former WGEM colleague, Matt Schmidt, described Van Ness as someone who was easy to get along with.

“She was very commanding of the room and, you know, spoke up and was not afraid to say things,” he remarked. “(Our) personalities just blended well.”

The obituary for Van Ness describes her as an “exceptional mother and wife” who worked to create opportunities for future journalists across the United States via fellowship programs and paid internships.

“She was a determined parent who taught her children the importance of reading, safety, learning and loving,” the obituary said in part. “Together with (her husband), their goal was to raise the most well-rounded young men they could, regardless of their boys’ lack of enthusiasm from time to time.”