Bob Abernethy, veteran broadcast journalist and longtime host of the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” died in Brunswick on Sunday. He was 93.

He died of natural causes, according to an obituary that his daughter, Jane Montgomery Abernethy, posted on Facebook.

A screen shot of Bob Abernethy hosting the PBS show “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” which aired from 1997-2017.

Abernethy, who spent 40 years as a correspondent for NBC News in Washington, D.C., London, Los Angeles and Moscow, had been a fixture at The Gathering Place day shelter in Brunswick, where he was drawn to the stories of people experiencing homelessness.

Abernethy visited the shelter on a weekly basis for about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mary Connolly, executive director of The Gathering Place. Ever the journalist, he hoped to create something from the stories he heard, though they hadn’t determined what that might be, Connolly said.

“He would come in and you would find him in the corner just chatting away with whomever,” Connolly said. “He was such an easy person to talk to. He was so kind and loving and open to being part of that process. That was really the draw for him. … So many of our guests were drawn to him and sharing their stories with him. These personal connections kept him coming back each week.”

During his tenure with NBC News, Abernethy covered the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. Earlier, he covered Congress, the space program and the vice-presidential campaign of Lyndon Johnson, his obituary said.

In 1997, Abernethy turned his focus to the world of religion and founded the PBS program, “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.” He was the program’s on-air host and executive editor for nearly 20 years.

The show featured national and international news stories and analysis about religion and spirituality. According to a story posted on Religion News Service, it included interviews with former President Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama; profiles about religious leaders such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and evangelist Billy Graham; and topics such as faith after 9/11, and the “nones,” or the religiously unaffiliated.

The show covered a range of topics including atheism, abortion, sexual abuse by clergy and assisted suicide.

“Finding this line between sensitivity to the spiritual dimensions of a story on the one hand and objective, traditional skepticism is a constant struggle and a very appropriate one, but I think we’ve got it right,” Mr. Abernethy told The Washington Post in 2000. “This is a matter of good reporting. Unless you get the spiritual element of the story, you’re missing something very important. It’s like interviewing Babe Ruth and not asking about hitting.”

Kim Lawton, longtime producer of the show, shared the news of Abernethy’s passing on her Facebook page. Lawton said she first met Abernethy in 1995 when he talked to her about “his crazy idea of a secular TV news show that would cover all streams of religion and spirituality.”

“Bob loved to tell the stories of this often-neglected beat,” Lawton wrote. “He always pushed us to “get to the heart” of every piece. He gave me the opportunity to pursue some amazing stories over the years, and I’ll always be grateful for everything I learned from him.”

The show won numerous industry awards and aired on more than 250 public stations nationwide with a weekly audience of 570,000 viewers, according to the website. The show ended in February 2017 after a nearly 20-year run.

“It has been a great privilege to report the many ways people of faith worship and serve others,” Abernethy said in a Dec. 14, 2016, news release. “We are deeply grateful to our thoughtful staff and also to our viewers, many of whom have told us the program consistently affirms the values they most respect.”

Abernethy was a 1952 graduate of Princeton University, where he received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the School of Public and International Affairs.

He went on to work for NBC News and was assigned to the Washington, D.C., bureau for two years before being transferred to London. In 1958, he returned to Washington to report and anchor network news. In the 1960s, Abernethy wrote and hosted NBC’s news program for young people, “Update,” the obituary said.

In the late 1970s, he was the Washington interviewer for “Today.” In Los Angeles, he anchored the evening news report for KNBC and was an active honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades. In 1989, he accepted his final assignment as a correspondent in Moscow. He retired from NBC in 1994.

He is survived by his wife, Marie, of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, their daughter Elizabeth, of Los Angeles, and by his daughter Jane of Brunswick. His first wife was the late Jean Montgomery Abernethy, who died in 1980.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. His family asks that donations in his memory be made to The Gathering Place, 5 Tenney Way in Brunswick.

“It’s so humbling. We are so grateful,” Connolly said of his family’s wish to consider donations to the shelter. “It’s a reminder that personal connections are wonderful for people. He obviously really got a lot out of being here. The people that come here are special. We are so thrilled and honored Bob felt that way too.”


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