I saw an NBC news broadcast one night in 1977 and thought I’d spotted the man, the complete stranger, who had raped me in it. I knew John Chancellor lived in the building next to mine in New York, so I left a note with the doorman and asked him to deliver it for me. I had no idea what to expect, if Mr. Chancellor would even reply to my plea for help in getting to see the broadcast again (this was WAY before VCRs, tivo, or DVR,) but to my surprise and relief, he did. His reply was completely unjudgmental and thoughtful, although I’m sure he viewed it as a very unusual request; he told me he had arranged for me to go up to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center and take as much time as I needed to watch the segment in which I thought I spotted the man who had raped me on a subway platform in July of 1977, in a scene as the camera panned across a group of men standing on a street corner in the Bronx. So I walked over to Rockefeller Center at the appointed time, 6 PM, and much to my shock, as I’d been expecting some lower level page or something to greet me and escort me to up to NBC, John Chancellor himself was waiting for me in the lobby. Mind you, he had been my neighbor for years, but we had never met or been introduced; I’d only ever seen him on the street outside our buildings and nodded to him in that detached sort of way New Yorkers have of being “friendly” to each other, especially when one of the nodders is not famous and the other one is. But there he was, John Chancellor, greeting me warmly, telling me right away that he knew this was a difficult thing for me to be doing and that he would help any way he could. Again, I expected him to just turn me over to an assistant, but no, he took me up to the studios, sat with me as the techie cued up the tape, and stayed with me for more than an hour as I watched and watched and watched again, uncertain if I could identify my attacker as the same man I saw on the tape. He saw that my indecision was upsetting me greatly; I thought I would have been able to point to the man in the film and say unequivocally, Yes, that’s the man who raped me, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t be sure, and it was killing me, and John Chancellor understood that somehow. We sat there, and he sensed my inner turmoil, and he was just THERE for me, not saying very much, just letting me know by his silence and patience that he had my back. I left the studio with a heavy heart but I thanked him for his kindness, and then a few days later I got a beautiful handwritten note from him telling me he hoped I would be able to find some degree of peace about both the assault itself and being unable to identify my attacker. He said he recognized my indecision as a sign of integrity, that my refusal to point the finger at someone when I wasn’t sure, just to get revenge for having been assaulted, had left a profound impression upon him. Upon HIM! I saw him on the street a few times after that and he would always take the time to say hi and ask how I was, but then he moved away and we lost touch. Forty-four years later, and twenty-four years after John Chancellor’s death, I still always get a glow on when I hear his voice on some documentary or long-ago broadcast and am reminded of what a decent human being he was, how genuine, not fake, like you might expect someone in his position to be, but exactly like the sound of his voice: warm, intelligent, engaged, thoughtful, and above all, kind. That’s what the sound of his voice will allways remind me of, kindness.
P.S. My rapist was never identified, but with the help of John Chancellor’s sweet note and a lot of therapy, I was able to make my peace with being unable to get justice for the crime committed against me. And I never associate the sound of his voice with the assault, either, only with the subsequent kindness and concern he showed me, a relative stranger, for no particular reason other than that’s the kind of person he was.