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Longtime television reporter Warren Elly dies

Former WTVT-Ch. 13 reporter Warren Elly kept a blog about his fight with cancer.

Former WTVT-Ch. 13 reporter Warren Elly kept a blog about his fight with cancer. 
Published Apr. 7, 2015

TAMPA — Television reporter Warren Elly announced his retirement four years ago almost to the date. For journalists and the viewing public, the announcement was a big deal. In his nearly 29 years at WTVT-Ch. 13, Mr. Elly had broken thousands of stories covering courts and crime, politics and space exploration.

"I've always been a daily news reporter," Mr. Elly said at the time. "All I've ever done is turn and burn."

He was spending more time in retirement on his ham radio, doing charity work and visiting friends in other states.

Late in 2014, Mr. Elly learned he had a rare adrenal cancer that had already metastasized. Mr. Elly died Monday at home. He was 64.

Former colleagues are saddened and stunned at the loss of a respected reporter and friend.

"Warren was a throwback," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who first worked with Mr. Elly when Buckhorn was an assistant to Mayor Sandy Freedman. "He would never ambush you in a way that you didn't deserve. If you screwed up, he was going to nail you — but he was going to do that based on the facts."

State Attorney General Pam Bondi, a former Hillsborough County assistant state attorney, remembers Mr. Elly as a trustworthy professional who developed friendly relations with his sources, one who might break out photos of his children and grandchildren as soon as his hard-hitting interviews were over.

"Everyone loved him in the courthouse, even his competitors," Bondi said.

Former Chief Judge Manuel Menendez called Mr. Elly "a man of integrity," sentiments echoed by prominent defense lawyer Barry Cohen.

"When you told Warren 'off the record,' he knew what 'off the record' meant," Cohen said. "He never violated that one time."

He found stories everywhere.

A smoke break led to a friendship with Tampa police Officer Ricky Childers — "the first cop who trusted me," Mr. Elly later said — who was killed by Hank Earl Carr in 1998. A routine bail hearing for a man who had punched his girlfriend in the face turned into a sensitive story about women who try to keep their abusers from being prosecuted.

A space shuttle launch inevitably had Mr. Elly's name on it. He covered 120 of them by his own count and supplied the national feed for the Fox News Channel when the Columbia disintegrated in 2003. But some of the most impressive stories came from his own initiative, said former WTVT news director Ray Blush.

"I can't tell you how many times Warren would be talking with the assignment desk, and there would be no assignment for him," Blush said. "He would say, 'Well, I'll just go out and snoop around.' And more often than not, he would come back and end up with the lead story of the day."

He joined WTVT in 1982 and set a startling pace.

"We are all competitive in the newsroom, and you always want to scoop the guys next to you," said Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, a former Ch. 13 colleague. "And I'll tell you, I would have a hard time keeping up with Warren Elly."

Warren C. Elly was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in Stamford, Conn. Always a ham radio enthusiast, he got his commercial and amateur FCC licenses in 1965 and 1966. A passion for ham radio led to the acquisition of one of "his most prized possessions … a Hallicrafters BC-610I transmitter, used by the military for command and control in WWII and Korea," according to advance publicity for a talk he gave in June at the International Microwave Symposium in Tampa.

He was the station manager at Wesley College in Dover, Del., when fellow student Lona Amos met him.

"It was love at first sight," said Lona Elly, his wife since April 7, 1973 — 42 years ago Tuesday.

After earning a journalism degree from American University in Washington, D.C., Mr. Elly worked in radio in Washington, D.C., New Hampshire and Maine. He came to WTVT in Tampa from a television station in Youngstown, Ohio.

"I enjoyed good, hard-nosed reporters, and he was one of them," said Jack Espinosa, a former spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "He always asked pointed questions."

After getting his cancer diagnosis, Mr. Elly started a blog about the experience. He described the patients and doctors he met, ruminated about the lack of a cure, chronicled his treatment and his decision to end chemotherapy.

John Dunn, now the spokesman for Tampa General Hospital, counted Elly as a friend for decades, both of them part of a crew of former journalists who met regularly for breakfast. It was at one of those breakfasts last year that Elly disclosed his cancer diagnosis to his friends.

"When he started all of this, his goal was to be able to get to the opening day of the Rays game," Dunn said.

Elly died on opening day.

This story reflects the following correction: Christopher Elly is a surviving son of Mr. Elly. An earlier online version listed an incorrect first name.

Times staff writers Sue Carlton and Amy Scherzer and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.