For generations of Mid-South children his face was as familiar as Bert, Ernie or Big Bird.
His "Hello, Mr. Chuck" television show did by itself define the many accomplishments of Memphis businessman and civic leader Chuck Scruggs.
Mr. Scruggs passed away Friday, Jan. 18, at the age of 80.
"Hello, hello. Let's say it again. Sing along now. Hello, hello won't you be my friend?"
It became "Mr. Chuck's" signature song as host of one of the most popular children's shows to ever grace the television airways of Memphis.
For most men, fame of any kind can become an uncomfortable fit when it's not reflective of your real persona. But, with the Black Broadcasting Hall of Fame recipient, what you saw and who he was truly one and the same.
With the news of the death of the 80-year-old pioneer broadcaster, civic leader and education advocate, those who knew him well, like WKNO President Mike Labonia, reflected on the wealth of memories Mr. Scruggs left behind.
"Fred Rogers had come to town and he stopped in to watch Chuck to his program and visit with Chuck," Labonia recalled. "Before he left he came in and told me. He said, 'Absolutely, remarkable. What he's achieving. What he's done. What he's accomplishing.'"
Long before he brought joy to generations of Mid-South children on TV, Mr. Scruggs' list of accomplishments as a businessman and community-minded leader had already been etched in Bluff City history. Arriving in Memphis in 1972, Mr. Scruggs served for 12 years as the influential vice president and manager of the iconic radio station WDIA.
One of the many projects that drew his attention was when he got a call from the owner of the Lorraine Motel asking him for help and ideas as to what to do with his abandoned facility, Mr. Scruggs' sense of the historical value the building could be converted into, led him to do the "legwork" to lay the foundation for what would become the National Civil Rights Museum.
"He advocated at the state level and locally," recalled Beverly Robertson, NCRM's executive director. "He was actually the chairman of the Lorraine Civil Rights Foundation Board which precedes the opening of the Civil Rights Museum."
Yet, it was through the vehicle of his television recognition, Mr. Scruggs' had the perfect platform to promote literacy among the city's youth. His charm. His warmth. His wit. Just like on TV, in person those traits created a natural bond between Mr. Scruggs and his audiences - whether they were 8 or 80.
"It was genuineness. He wasn't looking for anything," Labonia said. "He wasn't trying to sell a product.
It was genuine. Genuine interest in trying to help make kids better."
"Chuck has been such a public servant and such a contributor to the life and fabric of the Memphis community and he will be sorely missed," Robertson added.
"Now you are my friend. Now you are my friend. Thank you!"
Memorial services for "Mr. Chuck" were set Jan. 22, television station WKNO said. There will be two visitation times on Friday, Jan. 25: R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home, 374 Vance. from 12-4 p.m.; and at St. Therese-Little Flower Catholic Church, 1644 Jackson Ave., from 5-9 p.m.
A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 10 a.m. at St. Therese-Little Flower.
Honoring the life and community impact of
Charles "Mr. Chuck" Scruggs, WKNO will present a 30-minute tribute show
entitled Our Friend Mr. Chuck. The program will air Thursday, January 24
at 8:00 p.m. on WKNO/Channel 10.
Our Friend Mr. Chuck, produced by Pierre Kimsey, is the story of Charles A. "Chuck" Scruggs, told largely in his own words.
The story takes him through his childhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee and follows him through his broadcast career to Cincinnati, San Francisco and eventually Memphis where he became an icon to thousands of Mid-South children. The show will highlight how Chuck's career allowed him to see his responsibility as a broadcaster. He spent his life using broadcast as a tool for change.
"I was certain there was a need for Mr. Chuck," said Shawn Kelly, former producer of Hello Mr. Chuck! "People want to watch TV; they want to be entertained; they want their MTV, but they need someone like Mr. Chuck. They need sincerity and a kind voice. They need to know some things are real, and Mr. Chuck was real, not a TV character that could be turned off. In the simplest of words, he was a black man who invested his life's energy to be an example and an advocate for our children. We will always need that."
"We may now begin living in a community where there is no Mr. Chuck," said Michael LaBonia, WKNO President & CEO. "But his legacy will always be here. Mr. Chuck will always be alive in our minds and hearts."
Our Friend Mr. Chuck airs Thursday, January 24 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, January 27 at 9:00 a.m. on WKNO/Channel 10. It also airs Sunday, January 27 at 12:30 p.m. on WKNO2, available over the air on Channel 10.2 and on Comcast Cable Channel 910.