WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Donn Ansell, a former radio and television personality and long-time supporter of the arts in Wilmington, passed away Friday after losing a battle with cancer.
Ansell owned WAAV-AM in Wilmington for many years before selling to Cumulus Broadcasting in the mid-1990s. He continued to host the "Talk of the Town" morning radio show, before retiring in 2006 after more than two decades on the air.
"People let him into their homes every morning," said his partner Michael Jones. "People wrote him letters saying how great he was." Jones says he was the only radio host to stay on air during Hurricane Diana in 1984.
Ansell later hosted "Byline: Wilmington" on WILM-TV for several years, continuing to interview local politicians and newsmakers.
"Coming from a music radio background, Donn taught me the importance of supplying your audience with information between the songs," said Mike Farrow, who worked alongside Ansell at WGNI-FM and later became Program Director at WAAV-AM. "He was the first radio person to teach me how to make my radio station more than just a juke box. He was the consummate professional, tweaking every little detail of what came out the speakers. He made all of us better broadcasters."
From the time he moved to Wilmington around 1973, Donn staunchly supported the city's arts and theater community.
"He was a wonderful person to be with on stage," said his friend Tony Rivenbark. "He gave so much."
"[He was] electric, you could feel everything he did on stage," said Jones.
He performed many roles on the stage at historic Thalian Hall, including the first show done after the remodeling of the facility in 1976. Ansell served as Executive Director of the Thalian Association, and also as a member of the Thalian Hall Board. He also worked as Managing Director of City Stage and with other local theater groups.
"He basically helped to re-organize the Thalian Association, making it more concrete," said Jones.
Donn also worked to support many community organizations. He was a member of the League of Women Voters, and helped to organize candidate forums with candidates running for local and state offices.
Donn also hosted many of those forums, which took place on the UNCW campus. Family members say he helped start the Hospitality House, a facility that assists families of patients at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
He worked on the boards of St. Thomas Preservation of the Arts, and the Community Arts Center Accord, helping to preserve both of those historic facilities in downtown Wilmington.
Tony Rivenbark, the Director of Thalian Hall who knew and worked with Donn for nearly 40 years, says friends are planning a celebration of Donn's life. It will take place in Thalian Hall, but no date has been scheduled.
"Everybody loved Donn, he was so special," said Jones.
Donn Ansell was 69 years old.
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