Hal Bruno of ABC News Dies at 83

Donna Svennevik/ABC

Longtime ABC News Political Director Hal Bruno died in Maryland Tuesday after a fall at his home. He was 83.

Bruno was a pioneer of political journalism and helped guide ABC’s political coverage through most of the ’80s and ’90s, before leaving in 1999 to serve as director of the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.

Bruno, whose career was dedicated to politics, died on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, an off-year election day.

He was a major presence in the ABC News Washington bureau until his retirement in 1999. He had better sources than anyone in the business, according to ABC News Washington Bureau Chief Robin Sproul, who, as a radio producer, worked with him on the show “Hal Bruno’s Washington.”

“The number of county party chairman he knew across the country was mind-blowing,” she said. “On election night he could call any one of them. They all knew him and they were all trying to get information to him and from him.”

Bruno reported in a different era of political journalism. He was all about telling the stories of people in politics and getting his information from on the ground.

“Those people don’t exist anymore,” said Ken Rudin, political editor at NPR and Bruno’s deputy at ABC for more than a decade. “Now it’s fluff and it’s rumor and it’s innuendo and it’s polling and front-runners. Hal wasn’t like that. He knew people.”

But he was much more than a political journalist and will be remembered in the ABC News Washington Bureau also for his leadership on the softball team.

“Politics was his first love. But firefighting was his second passion,” said Glennwood Branche, who is vice president for operations at the Washington bureau and became fishing buddies with Bruno after his retirement from ABC.

Bruno’s interest in firefighting and firefighters began “after riding as a kid on fire trucks in Chicago,” Branche said.

That childhood passion led Bruno to become a volunteer fireman.

“For more than 60 years, Hal Bruno served as an active member of the fire service community, giving selflessly as a dedicated volunteer firefighter, advocate, commentator and leader,” according to a statement from the National Firefighter’s Association. “He is renowned for his commitment to fire safety initiatives and his compassion for the members of the fire service and their families.”

The statement also described an important story in Bruno’s journalism career.

“He was one of the first journalists on the scene of the tragic Our Lady of the Angels elementary school fire in Chicago on December 1, 1958 in which 92 students and 3 nuns died. His report that the fire spread so quickly because of the open stairwell lead to significant changes in fire safety and building standards and codes.”

Bruno was also a nationally recognized authority on fire safety and served for almost 60 years as an active volunteer firefighter. He was director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Chevy Chase Fire Department until 2008 and was Chairman Emeritus after that.

Bruno was also an avid fisherman, an excellent skier, a loyal Chicago Cubs fan and, according to an old ABC News biography, “a terrible tennis player.” For many years he was captain of the ABC softball team and played guitar in a bluegrass band made up of Washington newsmen, known as the “Informed Sources.”

As the political director of ABC News, Bruno was responsible for campaign and election coverage on the ABC television and radio networks for 19 years.

He joined ABC News in 1978, after 18 years with Newsweek magazine, where he had been a reporter, foreign correspondent, bureau chief, news editor and chief political correspondent. He covered his first presidential election in 1960 and served as moderator of the vice-presidential debate in the 1992 campaign.

A native of Chicago, he began his journalism career while a student at the University of Illinois, where he was a sports writer for the Daily Illini and worked weekends on the  Champaign News Gazette. After graduation in 1950, he started as a reporter for Advertising Age magazine and then became sports editor of the DeKalb (Illinois) Daily Chronicle.

Bruno served as an Army intelligence officer during the Korean War and returned to journalism as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. He joined the Chicago American in 1954, and for the next six years covered a wide range of stories, including investigations of crime and social problems in Chicago and wars and revolutions in South Asia , the Middle East and the Caribbean.

In 1956, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to India, where he conducted a study of Indian media and filed stories for the International News Service. Some of his unique foreign assignments included both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Cuban revolution and the Chinese-Indian War in the Himalayan mountains.

Hal is survived by wife Margaret, two sons and four grandchildren.