Former TV producer dies in Newton fire

Deare’s dedication at WGBH remembered

The probable cause of the fire at 56 Waverley Ave. in Newton early yesterday was careless disposal of smoking material, according to the state fire marshal. The probable cause of the fire at 56 Waverley Ave. in Newton early yesterday was careless disposal of smoking material, according to the state fire marshal. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / February 22, 2011

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NEWTON — A fire that tore through a Newton home early yesterday claimed the life of an award-winning former television producer for WGBH, her family said yesterday.

Aloyce Beth Deare, 63, was killed in the blaze at her residence at 56 Waverley Ave., according to a family statement.

“We were informed early this morning that our sister’s residence was engulfed in flames and shortly thereafter learned that our fears were realized,’’ her family said. “We will spend the day remembering that Beth’s life was full with incredible highs, ranging from her loving daughter and three grandchildren to her many awards and accolades for her acclaimed work in television and film.’’

Deare’s family said she won numerous Emmy awards and a Peabody Award. She was a longtime producer of WGBH’s “Say Brother,’’ a public-affairs program by, for, and about African-Americans, according to the station’s website. Deare worked on the program for 17 years beginning in the 1980s, according to an article in a newsletter published by Bunker Hill Community College, where she taught for more than 14 years in the English department.

Mike Castro, Newton’s deputy fire chief, said investigators believe the fire started in Deare’s second-floor bedroom. Stephen D. Coan, the state fire marshal, said the probable cause was “careless disposal of smoking material.’’ He declined to elaborate.

Castro said firefighters had difficulty finding Deare because the roof collapsed from the third floor onto the second floor.

A female tenant who lives on the third floor of the yellow three-story home was taken to Newton-Wellesley Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation, according to Castro. There were no other injuries in the four-alarm blaze, which firefighters responded to shortly after 1:30 a.m.

Deare’s production credits included “In the Matter of Levi Hart,’’ an Emmy-winning documentary of a Boston police shooting, and the documentary “Beacon to Freedom: Black Life in the Bay Colony,’’ which she finished in 2008 while being treated for throat cancer, according to Bunker Hill.

Yesterday, a family friend said the cancer had spread to her brain and she was battling the disease at the time of her death.

Robin Washington, a former Boston Herald reporter who worked as a freelance reporter and producer on “Say Brother’’ in the 1980s, said in a phone interview from his home in Duluth, Minn., that Deare was a wonderful mentor at WGBH.

“She had a total passion and commitment to the community she was covering, uncompromisingly so,’’ said Washington, who is the editor of the Duluth News Tribune.

He recalled examining viewer data for “Say Brother’’ with Deare and learning that 40 percent of the show’s audience was black.

“Since the majority of the audience seemed to be white, I said, ‘Well maybe we should change the focus of the show,’ ’’ Washington said. “And her response was, ‘Absolutely not.’ She said, ‘If [most people] watching this are white people, then they’re watching it because it is a black show.’ ’’

Washington said he last saw Deare in October, when he returned to Boston to appear on WGBH radio to discuss a documentary he produced on John Coltrane. “Even though she was frail and her throat was scratchy and she was a little hard to understand, she was every bit the firebrand she always had been,’’ he said.

WGBH said in a statement that Deare was “a talented producer and someone who really made connections with others and the community.’’

Documentary filmmaker Valerie Whitmore of Milton, a former producer for the programs “Coming Together’’ and “Evening Magazine’’ on WBZ-TV, said yesterday that in addition to being a talented professional, Deare was a close friend.

“She was a great producer and a wonderful writer and she had a kind heart,’’ Whitmore said. “She was always doing for others.’’

Deare ran a furniture refurbishing business with her brother for a time, Whitmore said, and worked on several pieces of furniture in her home. “Beth dabbled in a lot of things, and she was good at everything,’’ Whitmore said.

She said Deare was at the center of a group of women of color working to create bold, new television programs in Boston in the 1980s and ’90s.

“It was good-natured competition,’’ she said. “It was like we were all sisters and comrades together working in the business. It’s just a very sad thing.’’

Deare’s family did manage to find a small amount of solace yesterday.

“We take comfort in knowing that the cancer she fought will no longer consume her and that her vast family and extended family including students and friends around the world will keep her in love and prayer,’’ the family said.

Globe correspondent Jenna Duncan contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at