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Sharon McGhee, WVON news director, dead of ovarian cancer at 55

 SharK. McGhee 54 former news director WVON. | Phoby Victor Powell

Sharon K. McGhee, 54, former news director, WVON. | Photo by Victor Powell

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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:44AM

Maybe you call it moxie, or chutzpah, or swagger. By whatever name, Sharon McGhee had it.

After the radio station where she worked in St. Louis changed formats, she drove to Chicago in 1997, determined to get a meeting with the boss at WVON Radio, Melody Spann-Cooper.

She succeeded by stationing herself in the lobby — for four days.

Spann-Cooper was impressed.

“She sat in the lobby until I would see her,” Spann-Cooper said. “I almost hired her on the spot when I sat down and listened to her tape.”

Ms. McGhee, who went on to become WVON’s news director as well as a talk-show host, died Tuesday of ovarian cancer at the Columbia, Mo., home of her brother, Ivan McGhee. She was 55.

In addition to her career as a broadcaster, Ms. McGhee also was a playwright. Her work grew out of her concern about the high rate of HIV/AIDS among black women and the success of “The Vagina Monologues,” based on women’s personal stories about their sexuality.  Ms. McGhee called her production “The PocketBook Monologues,” for the delicate reference for intimate parts used among some older African-American women. The play was dubbed “The Vagina Monologues with Soul.”

To research it, Ms. McGhee said in a 2008 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, she interviewed women across the country, from drug addicts to chief executives.

The play made it onto the stage of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and also into an episode of TV’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” where it was performed by “Real Housewives” Kandi Burruss and Lisa Wu Hartwell. Kim Coles was among the stars who appeared in the show.

Ms. McGhee wrote about her excitement at the “Real Housewives” production in a blog in 2009, saying: “I am so excited ‘The Pocketbook Monologues’ will be featured on ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’. . . . What many don’t know is that I was battling ovarian cancer during this time. I didn’t even tell the talented cast that I had to rush back to Chicago for my 5th chemotherapy treatment!”

The play also was performed at the DuSable Museum in 2009 by broadcasters Marion Brooks, Cheryl Burton, Micah Materre, Robin Robinson and Dorothy Tucker.

Ms. McGhee, a native of St. Louis, at one time hosted the KATZ radio show “Good Morning St. Louis.”

“She was witty. She was direct,” Spann-Cooper said. “She gave news with a flavor, so even though, in her journalistic capacity, she wouldn’t give an opinion, you could tell the sarcasm in her voice. She might clear her throat. She was spicy.”

Despite her health problems, she kept her heart open, and she kept writing. She launched another play, “The Cancer Monologues,” about her battle with ovarian cancer. Former WMAQ-TV news anchor Art Norman said he will never forget how Ms. McGhee helped him as his late wife, Ondina, dealt with the disease.

“When my wife was going through her ordeal, some three years ago, she would pray with me,” Norman said. “She was so kind and thoughtful. In return, I supported her play ‘The Cancer Monologues.’ In fact, she wrote me into her script as a husband who was coping with a wife dying of cancer. I was so moved.”

Ms. McGhee also is survived by her father, J.W. McGhee, and two other brothers, Don and Joseph.

She served in the U.S. Army in Germany, where she inspected missiles, according to her family.

On Saturday, her service in St. Louis will feature a 21-gun salute.

Visitation will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the William C. Harris Chapel in St. Louis, followed by a memorial service at noon and burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

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