Services Friday for Tom Draper of WBOC

Tom Draper died following a cycling accident last Friday.

A funeral service is scheduled Friday for longtime WBOC owner and broadcast pioneer Tom Draper, who passed away Friday following a bicycle accident that happened the day before near Milford.

A visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. this evening, Thursday, Sept. 14. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday. Both services will be held at Crossroad Church on State Forest Road in Georgetown. Burial will be held privately.

According to Delaware State Police, a pickup truck hit Draper as he was riding his bicycle on Slaughter Beach Road near his home outside of Milford at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday.

The driver, a 37-year-old Lewes man, stopped immediately and called 9-1-1 and waited until help arrived.

The 76-year-old Draper, who suffered critical injuries in the crash, was initially transported to Milford Memorial Hospital before being flown to the Shock Trauma Center at University Hospital in Baltimore, where he underwent surgery Thursday afternoon. He succumbed to his injuries early Friday.

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

The DSP Collision Reconstruction Unit, which was continuing its investigation into the crash, said no charges had yet been filed.

Pennsylvania native

Thomas Henry Draper was born on Aug. 18, 1941, in Media, Pa., son of the late William Reed and Ruth Kelley Draper. He was raised in Milford, and spent his summers in nearby Slaughter Beach.

His schooling took him to Mount Hermon School in Gill, Mass. and ultimately to Brown University in Rhode Island.  Draper excelled on the lacrosse field. He was the captain of the 1964 Brown team and named All-American that year as well. He eventually would end up in Brown University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

After graduating from college, in 1967 Draper moved back home to Sussex County and purchased a radio station. It became WTHD, which bore his initials as its call letters.

Five years later, Draper signed on WAFL-FM in Milford. His broadcasting career would take a big turn in the late 1970s when WBOC’s then-owner, the A.S. Abel Co. — which also owned the Sunpapers in Baltimore — put the station up for sale. But Draper was outbid twice.

Draper and his group of investors were asked to make a third bid for WBOC-TV and its two radio stations. After the deal was done in 1980, Draper sold off the two radio stations to focus on TV.

Draper would go on to buy and sell other TV stations in Kansas and Texas.

Under Draper’s leadership, WBOC’s viewership and reach across Delmarva would grow dramatically. It started with building a Dover newsroom in 1986. His goal was to always cover Delmarva.

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

Draper would continually invest in new and better technology. In 2003, WBOC launched a second station, UPN21, which would eventually become FOX21. It was a $13 million investment that took WBOC to the next level.

First, WBOC’s tower was outfitted with a new transmitter to be able to broadcast in high-definition, then came the construction of the NewsPlex a state-of-the-art broadcast center in Salisbury. And in late 2015, Draper and WBOC returned to their radio roots with the launch of 50,000-watt WBOC 102.5 FM.

At the time of his death, Draper was poised to announce the launch of Delmarva’s newest television station, Telemundo Delmarva. On Sept. 3, 2017, Draper celebrated 50 years in broadcasting.

Hunter, conservationist

While Draper was a broadcasting pioneer who changed the media landscape on Delmarva, there was much more to him than that. He felt very strongly about land and wildlife conservation. He was an avid hunter and later in life spent some time at a vacation home in Big Sky, Mont.

Draper was passionate about land and wildlife conservation. He was an avid hunter and spent time in Big Sky. He loved art, history, cycling, hiking, skiing, politics, education and his garden. First and foremost, he loved his family and friends, traveling with his partner, Francesca, to spend time with his grandchildren and to visit friends near and far.

In addition, Draper was a big supporter of education. During Wesley College’s 2011 commencement, he told graduates, “I recommend to you that you take your education. That you keep educating yourself and if you have to keep reeducating yourself to understand the basics of finance and the basics of a balanced life.”

All of his friends and family would agree that Draper lived a very full and fulfilling life. He had a profound impact on many people, including those of us at WBOC.

“Tom wanted to serve the people of Delmarva with high quality news and information,” Jahelka said. “He and his family continually poured money back into the station. And that passion was rewarded as WBOC-TV grew to become one of the most dominant local stations in the nation.

“He was one of the few remaining single, independent owners nationwide who truly cared about his viewers and community and invested in WBOC. It’s why WBOC is the smallest market station in the country to fly a news-gathering helicopter, operate three bureaus, produce both local news and a daily local talk show as well as a local outdoors show, and broadcast from a multimillion-dollar NewsPlex.”

“I have been so honored to work for Tom. He was not only our leader, but he was also a friend,” said Laura Baker, Chief Operating Officer of Draper Holdings, parent company of WBOC-TV. “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.”

Baker said Draper’s legacy will live on with his four children, who with others, form the Board of Directors for Draper Holdings.

Daughters Molly Draper Russell and Mariah Calgione both worked in News; Bill Draper worked in Creative Services and Hank Draper worked in Sales. Russell is now Co-President and Chairman of Draper Holdings; Hank Draper is a Vice President of Loblolly LLC, the farming and land division of the company.

“I am confident they will honor their father and his vision for WBOC and for Delmarva,” Baker said.

Draper is survived by his four children and nine grandchildren: daughter, Mariah Draper Calagione and her husband, Sam, of Lewes, Del.; daughter Molly Draper Russell and her husband, Bobby, of Orlando, Fla.; son Thomas Henry “Hank” Draper Jr. and his wife, Amy, of Milton; and William Reed Draper II. He is also survived by his two sisters, Ruth Draper and Diane McGuire, both of Dover; and his loving partner, Francesca Curtin of New York, N.Y.

Memorial donations may be made to the Draper Holdings Charitable Foundation, One The Square, Milton, DE 19968, which will benefit nonprofit organizations that Draper was particularly passionate about.  

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