Longtime broadcast executive dies following bike accident

Photo courtesy of WBOC-TV

MILFORD  — A longtime Delmarva broadcast news executive was remembered as an industry pioneer after his death Friday morning from injuries suffered in a bicycle accident the day before.

TV station WBOC reported its owner, Thomas H. Draper, 76, of Milford died at R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after being hit by a pickup truck while riding his bike on Slaughter Beach Road near Milford Thursday morning.

Delaware State Police continued to investigate the crash Friday. They said a 37-year-old man driving the Ford F150 that struck the bicycle called 911 immediately after the collision and stayed at the scene until first responders arrived.

Drug and alcohol use did not appear to be a factor and no charges were filed as of Friday morning, police said in a news release update.

WBOC-TV is a CBS affiliate based in Salisbury, Maryland, with satellite newsrooms in Dover and Milton, the Associated Press reported.

The station said in a statement that Draper celebrated his 50th anniversary in broadcasting on Sunday.

“There are no words to express the profound grief the WBOC family feels at this time,” said Craig Jahelka, president of Draper Media.

“Tom was a broadcast pioneer, who said often those of us at WBOC have a moral obligation to serve the people of Delmarva. Our thoughts and prayers are now with his family.”

Mr. Draper was pronounced dead at Baltimore Shock Trauma at approximately 2:37 a.m. Delaware State Police said he was hit at roughly 7:35 a.m. Thursday.

Mr. Draper was initially taken to Bayhealth-Milford Memorial Hospital in critical condition before airlift transfer to the Baltimore hospital where he underwent surgery.

Slaughter Beach Road was closed for approximately three hours while the crash was investigated and cleared.

Life well spent

According to a WBOC news release, Mr. Draper was born and raised in Milford on Aug. 18, 1941, before attending a Massachusetts boarding school and then Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was later named to Brown’s Athletic Hall of Fame after being a lacrosse team captain and first-team All-American in 1964,

Upon graduation, Mr. Draper returned to Sussex County and bought a radio station with his initials as the call letters — WTHD. He purchased WAFL-FM in Milford five years later.

In the late 1970s, Mr Draper and a group of investors bought WBOC-TV and its two radio stations from A.S. Abel Co. in a third attempt after being outbid twice. He sold the radio stations in 1980.

Mr. Draper also bought and sold television stations in Kansas and Texas. WBOC was his top priority, according to the news release,

WBOC built a newsroom in Dover in 1986 as its coverage across Delmarva grew dramatically, according to the station.

Under Draper’s leadership, the station said, WBOC’s viewership and reach across Delmarva grew dramatically, starting with building a Dover newsroom in 1986.

“Our local community is not Dover, or Salisbury, or Easton or Cambridge, or Rehoboth. It’s Delmarva,” he told a WBOC reporter earlier.

In 2003, WBOC launched UPN21, which later became station FOX21, The $13 million investment included adding a tower transmitter to broadcast in high definition and a NewsPlex broadcast center in Salisbury. In late 2015, WBOC launched its 102.5 FM radio station.

Mr. Draper’s four children are part of the Draper Holdings Board of Directors, among others.

“I am confident they will honor their father and his vision for WBOC and for Delmarva,” Draper Holdings Chief Operating Officer Laura Baker said.

Speaking about Mr. Draper, Ms. Baker said, “I have been so honored to work for Tom. He was not only our leader, but he was also a friend.

“Many people know him as the owner of WBOC, but he was also passionate about farming and land preservation. He was unique in that way – owning farms and broadcast stations.

Senator pays tribute

Describing WBOC’s founder as a friend, state Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, issued a statement Friday.

“It is an understatement to say that Tom Draper was a unique individual; philanthropist, naturalist, businessman, hunter, leader, friend, father, grandfather and so much-much more,” the senator said. “He was a proud Delawarean, and an unashamed lover of southern Delaware and its natural beauty, taking great pains throughout his life to protect it for future generations.”

While Mr. Draper’s life was full of tremendous accomplishments, his persona didn’t seek any attention for them, Sen. Simpson said.

“Tom Draper was a humble man and didn’t need to build himself up in the public eye,” he said.

“He was not boastful. He could be forceful, but had a quiet strength about him that garnered respect from all those around him. I will miss him.

“Delaware has lost one of its best.”

Able to identify the important aspects of an issue, Mr. Draper had no use for what didn’t matter.

“One of the things that struck me most about Tom was his uncanny ability to quickly sift through the BS of an issue and get to the heart of the discussion,” Sen. Simpson said.

“He was a smart and unparalleled visionary who could see into the future and make wise decisions on how things could be made better.”

In a quest for excellence, Mr. Draper wasn’t afraid to create his own path, the senator said.

“Tom was never content in doing things as they had always been done in the past or in maintaining the status quo if he thought he had a better idea,” Sen. Simpson said. “He was willing to take calculated risks that almost always turned out to be correct.”

Mr. Draper was a man for all ages and pursuits, according to Sen. Simpson.

“Tom enjoyed life and always lived it to its fullest,” he said. “If he could have, I’m sure he would have enjoyed being an early pioneer and explorer of the old West or taking that first step on the moon.”

And now, Sen. Simpson is without a trusted confidant and advisor.

“Tom was a personal friend and I hate to lose his wise counsel when it comes to all things political,” he said. “Tom had little patience for waste in government and for ineffectual politicians.

“He liked straight shooters and was willing to support those candidates who he thought could make a difference.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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