From her award-winning work as an esteemed Chicago journalist to her inspiring success as a world champion triathlete, Elizabeth Brackett brought strength, energy, passion and courage to everything she did.
Brackett, who was 76, died Sunday at Stroger Hospital, where she had been in a coma and on a ventilator since Wednesday, according to Window to the World Communications WTTW-Channel 11. She suffered a fractured vertebrae in her neck after a bicycle accident and was found unconscious near a bike path at 39th and South Lake Shore Drive.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised Brackett in a statement: “While Elizabeth rightfully received nearly every journalism award under the sun, anyone who knew her knew her passions stretched beyond the bounds of her career and that her greatest treasures were her beloved children. I will deeply miss our conversations about family, politics and triathlons.”
In 2014 Brackett stepped down after two decades as a staff correspondent for WTTW's “Chicago Tonight.” “I’m not really retiring but ‘refocusing’ — a word I like much better,” she told me at the time. She continued as an occasional contributor to the public television station's nightly news show.
“All of us at WTTW are devastated by the news of Elizabeth’s death,” Mary Field, executive producer of “Chicago Tonight,” said in a statement. “She is a friend and beloved colleague, and her loss will be felt not only here but in Chicago’s journalism community, of which she was a highly respected member, and among her many friends and competitors in the athletic world.”
Dan Soles, WTTW’s chief television content officer, said: “Elizabeth left an indelible mark on 'Chicago Tonight,' and we are grateful not only for the opportunity to have worked with her, but to have known her as a person of intelligence and integrity.”
Longtime colleague Carol Marin said in a tribute on WTTW’s website: “Elizabeth Bracket is to reporting what a bloodhound is to a crime scene. She is focused, relentless, and more often than not, able to sniff out the truth of a story ahead of the competition. She is a journalistic force to be reckoned with.”
A world champion triathlete who first competed at age 50, Brackett won five international titles in her age group – including one last year in Rotterdam, according to WTTW.
A graduate of New Trier High School and Indiana University, Brackett was a social worker, political activist and community organizer before turning to journalism. After jobs with CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9, ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and PBS’ “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” she joined WTTW full-time in 1984.
For her work she was honored with a Peabody Award, five Emmy Awards (including a national Emmy), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Headline Club, and induction in the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chicago/Midwest chapter. In 2011 Brackett made my inaugural list of The Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism.
She is survived by her husband, Peter Martinez; two children from a previous marriage, daughter Lisa Wallich and son Jon Brackett; four step children, two sisters and 10 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.