Dena Bunis, shown in December, was a reporter at Newsday from...

Dena Bunis, shown in December, was a reporter at Newsday from 1988 to 1996. Credit: Robert Palmer

She lost her mother at age 9, her father at age 12.

And for much of her subsequent childhood, friends said, Dena Bunis, an only child, was shuffled between relatives — some who embraced her, others who kept her at arm's length. Some disparaged her and her goals and aspirations.

That Bunis went on to become an accomplished journalist, that she came to be adored by most who knew her, was a tribute to her indomitable spirit, friends and family said this week.

“Dena was amazing in that, without parental support, shifted about as a teenager, to accomplish what she did and to still be so giving, to be generous to a fault … I was kind of in awe,” good friend and former newspaper colleague Robert Palmer, of Rochester, said. “I don't know anybody who had really gotten to know Dena who wasn't immediately infatuated with her. It was impossible not to be.”

A tireless reporter whose work spanned almost 50 years, Bunis primarily covered news, health care and politics for a host of publications, including the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Newsday, where she worked from 1988 to 1996, the Orange County (Calif.) Register, where she  was Washington bureau chief for almost 14 years, Congressional Quarterly and finally, AARP.

Bunis died last week at age 70. 

Friends said her last filed story was about the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden. Having failed to show at work, police responding to a wellness check at her Chevy Chase, Maryland, apartment found a deceased Bunis seated in front of a living room TV tuned to C-SPAN. 

“Classic Dena,” second-cousin David Bunis said — noting that, as friends agreed, knowing Bunis' sense of humor, she would've appreciated that detail.

“It's struck me the amazing number of people who have recalled Dena fondly, have shared stories of Dena Bunis,” David Bunis said. “It must've been tragic, what she went through as a kid. But I think she was a person who had it in her DNA, who, in the face of all odds, was going to make it happen … And I think wherever she went, whoever she knew, she made a strong impression.”

Born Oct. 3, 1953, in Brooklyn, Bunis often spent Thanksgiving and Passover with David Bunis and his family in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, after her parents died. David's parents, Abe and Janice, now in their 90s, recalled Thursday first seeing a teenage Dena arrive on a bus from New York for a holiday visit — a girl seeking to somehow belong somewhere, Janice Bunis said.

“I always marveled how, in spite of the fact she was so put down, that she trusted people,” Janice Bunis said. “That she was always so social, that she always was so generous of her time.” 

When an aunt continually tossed college correspondence in the trash, Janice Bunis said it was a librarian at Bay Ridge High School in Brooklyn who helped Bunis, on the sly, sort her college applications, until she earned a full scholarship to Syracuse University. Bunis became editor of the student paper, The Daily Orange, en route to a degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse, then got her first professional job at the Oneonta Daily Star in June 1975.

Like Palmer, who was a classical music critic at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, former longtime Newsday reporter Carol Eisenberg met Bunis in the 1980s when she worked in Rochester for the Times-Union, which shared a newsroom with the D&C.

“She was incredibly bright, she was incredibly accomplished, and she was incredibly generous,” said Eisenberg, who also worked with Bunis at both Newsday and Congressional Quarterly. “She was the star reporter, and I was not only a little bit in awe, but I was also intimidated by her.”

Bunis taught Eisenberg to play poker. The two became fast friends. “She had a childhood where she was so alone in the world,” Eisenberg said, “and yet she had such an open heart.”

In addition to her reporting, Bunis also served as chief speechwriter and senior communications adviser for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during the Obama administration. 

She could turn a phrase.

A May 1996 travel story for Newsday began: “If you don't play golf and hate country music, is there any reason to vacation in Myrtle Beach? I decided to fly down and find out.” 

And, in the lead sentence of an April 1996 breaking news story about the arrest of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Bunis wrote that when FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents stormed a Montana cabin to find Kaczynski lying on a cot, one agent said simply: “Ted, we need to talk.”

Bunis never married. But Palmer and his partner, Ward Pedde, said her friendships were strong and lasting. The two described their own bond with Bunis as “The Three Musketeers.”

“I took her home to spend Christmas when I first met her and my parents absolutely fell in love with her,” Palmer said, adding, “If I weren't of a different persuasion, we might've been married. That's how much I adored her. … No question, losing her is going to change our lives.”

Palmer said he would fly to Washington, D.C., every October to spend a birthday week with Bunis.

The two would go for the lobster special at an area bar and grill chain called Clyde's, which had locations throughout the city, he said.

“For five nights we'd go from Clyde's to Clyde's to Clyde's, each night a different one, ordering the lobster,” Palmer said, adding he hoped the butter from those lobsters hadn't led to her demise — and noting that Bunis would've gotten a roar out of thinking he'd even pondered that. 

A funeral  for Bunis will be held 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Mount Golda Cemetery — where her parents are buried — 500 Old Country Rd., in Huntington Station.  

She lost her mother at age 9, her father at age 12.

And for much of her subsequent childhood, friends said, Dena Bunis, an only child, was shuffled between relatives — some who embraced her, others who kept her at arm's length. Some disparaged her and her goals and aspirations.

That Bunis went on to become an accomplished journalist, that she came to be adored by most who knew her, was a tribute to her indomitable spirit, friends and family said this week.

“Dena was amazing in that, without parental support, shifted about as a teenager, to accomplish what she did and to still be so giving, to be generous to a fault … I was kind of in awe,” good friend and former newspaper colleague Robert Palmer, of Rochester, said. “I don't know anybody who had really gotten to know Dena who wasn't immediately infatuated with her. It was impossible not to be.”

A tireless reporter whose work spanned almost 50 years, Bunis primarily covered news, health care and politics for a host of publications, including the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Newsday, where she worked from 1988 to 1996, the Orange County (Calif.) Register, where she  was Washington bureau chief for almost 14 years, Congressional Quarterly and finally, AARP.

Bunis died last week at age 70. 

Friends said her last filed story was about the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden. Having failed to show at work, police responding to a wellness check at her Chevy Chase, Maryland, apartment found a deceased Bunis seated in front of a living room TV tuned to C-SPAN. 

“Classic Dena,” second-cousin David Bunis said — noting that, as friends agreed, knowing Bunis' sense of humor, she would've appreciated that detail.

“It's struck me the amazing number of people who have recalled Dena fondly, have shared stories of Dena Bunis,” David Bunis said. “It must've been tragic, what she went through as a kid. But I think she was a person who had it in her DNA, who, in the face of all odds, was going to make it happen … And I think wherever she went, whoever she knew, she made a strong impression.”

Born Oct. 3, 1953, in Brooklyn, Bunis often spent Thanksgiving and Passover with David Bunis and his family in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, after her parents died. David's parents, Abe and Janice, now in their 90s, recalled Thursday first seeing a teenage Dena arrive on a bus from New York for a holiday visit — a girl seeking to somehow belong somewhere, Janice Bunis said.

“I always marveled how, in spite of the fact she was so put down, that she trusted people,” Janice Bunis said. “That she was always so social, that she always was so generous of her time.” 

When an aunt continually tossed college correspondence in the trash, Janice Bunis said it was a librarian at Bay Ridge High School in Brooklyn who helped Bunis, on the sly, sort her college applications, until she earned a full scholarship to Syracuse University. Bunis became editor of the student paper, The Daily Orange, en route to a degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse, then got her first professional job at the Oneonta Daily Star in June 1975.

Like Palmer, who was a classical music critic at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, former longtime Newsday reporter Carol Eisenberg met Bunis in the 1980s when she worked in Rochester for the Times-Union, which shared a newsroom with the D&C.

“She was incredibly bright, she was incredibly accomplished, and she was incredibly generous,” said Eisenberg, who also worked with Bunis at both Newsday and Congressional Quarterly. “She was the star reporter, and I was not only a little bit in awe, but I was also intimidated by her.”

Bunis taught Eisenberg to play poker. The two became fast friends. “She had a childhood where she was so alone in the world,” Eisenberg said, “and yet she had such an open heart.”

In addition to her reporting, Bunis also served as chief speechwriter and senior communications adviser for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during the Obama administration. 

She could turn a phrase.

A May 1996 travel story for Newsday began: “If you don't play golf and hate country music, is there any reason to vacation in Myrtle Beach? I decided to fly down and find out.” 

And, in the lead sentence of an April 1996 breaking news story about the arrest of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Bunis wrote that when FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents stormed a Montana cabin to find Kaczynski lying on a cot, one agent said simply: “Ted, we need to talk.”

Bunis never married. But Palmer and his partner, Ward Pedde, said her friendships were strong and lasting. The two described their own bond with Bunis as “The Three Musketeers.”

“I took her home to spend Christmas when I first met her and my parents absolutely fell in love with her,” Palmer said, adding, “If I weren't of a different persuasion, we might've been married. That's how much I adored her. … No question, losing her is going to change our lives.”

Palmer said he would fly to Washington, D.C., every October to spend a birthday week with Bunis.

The two would go for the lobster special at an area bar and grill chain called Clyde's, which had locations throughout the city, he said.

“For five nights we'd go from Clyde's to Clyde's to Clyde's, each night a different one, ordering the lobster,” Palmer said, adding he hoped the butter from those lobsters hadn't led to her demise — and noting that Bunis would've gotten a roar out of thinking he'd even pondered that. 

A funeral  for Bunis will be held 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Mount Golda Cemetery — where her parents are buried — 500 Old Country Rd., in Huntington Station.  

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

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Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

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