Edie Huggins, the pioneering African American journalist who brought insight, empathy, elegance and wit to her work at NBC10 for more than four decades, died early yesterday at her home on the Main Line after a long struggle with lung cancer.

An extraordinarily versatile reporter who managed to be both dogged and tender, Ms. Huggins, 72, had served as a news anchor and talk-show host and done features and investigative stories.

In recent years, Ms. Huggins created "Huggins' Hero" reports, a weekly profile of ordinary folks whose selfless work, usually in the nonprofit sector, would not otherwise be recognized.

Ms. Huggins herself had been amply honored, inducted into the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, chosen by the Urban League of Philadelphia as one of the Outstanding African American Philadelphians of the 20th Century, recognized by the Philadelphia Chapter of American Women in Radio & Television as Communicator of the Year, and celebrated by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists with a lifetime achievement award.

A former soap opera actress and registered nurse, she was recruited to what then was CBS-owned WCAU-TV in Philadelphia in 1966 after a chance meeting with a broadcast executive in a New York restaurant. A single mother, Ms. Huggins arrived in the city with $65, her two young children, and enough courage to get her started. She went on to enjoy the longest consecutive run of any Philadelphia TV news person.

During an interview two years ago, when the city declared "Edie Huggins Day" to celebrate her 40th year with the station, the reporter, known for her humility and disarming candor, said she was hired despite an embarrassing lack of on-air experience. The reason, she said, was not so much that she had wowed the station manager, but that WCAU was competing against the NBC affiliate, which had just hired its first black woman reporter, Trudy Haynes.

"There was one black male reporter, one black female reporter, and one black cameraman at all the stations," recalled retired newsman Harvey Clark, who worked with Ms. Huggins as a young reporter at WCAU in 1978.

She was one of Clark's early mentors. "Edie was the first one who felt it was necessary for you to know who the movers and shakers in town were, and quietly introduced you to them and gave you references and all things that were specifically required for a reporter to have early success."

Patty Jackson, WDAS-FM midday personality, remembered as a child watching Ms. Huggins on TV. "It wasn't the norm to see black people on TV back in the '60s. . . . She made you proud to watch her. She was beautiful and had this poise about her. When I got a chance to meet her in person, she didn't disappoint at all. She was warm and friendly, a really good person."

Pete Kane, photojournalist for NBC10, credited Ms. Huggins for helping him launch his career.

"She was a blessing," he said. When he first met her, he was 18 and working in the WCAU mailroom. "She encouraged me to go to school. So I went to night school and eventually became a cameraman. . . . From Edie, I learned how to speak right, pronounce words correctly, because if you didn't, she'd get after you."

But she was also very sweet. "When you were on the street with her, it was like being out with your mother. We'd go shopping, have lunch. There's nobody like her and nobody will ever be like her," Kane said.

Acel Moore, Inquirer associate editor emeritus, similarly recalled Ms. Huggins for her supple nature - a leader among black journalists and a fundamentally decent human being.

"Edie treated me like a little brother," Moore said. "She was a gracious and gorgeous woman who loved people and was touched by the stories she did."

In a business where hubris is a common professional hazard, Ms. Huggins never let fame inflate her ego.

"Some people in this business are fake. Edie was real," said Gerry Wilkinson, a former producer at WDAS and WHYY who now heads the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. Wilkinson, who first met Ms. Huggins when he was a communications student at Temple University, said, "I remember thinking this lady really has class. She's going to make it in this town."

Another longtime friend, State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (D., Phila.), said Ms. Huggins handled her success with unfailing grace.

"In those days if you were beautiful and successful, you had a tendency to look down at others," Bishop said. "I never saw any of that in Edie. She was friendly with children, adults, the haves and the have-nots. Nothing went to her head."

A native of St. Joseph, Mo., Ms. Huggins graduated cum laude from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She worked at Bellevue and Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospitals in New York as a registered nurse, simultaneously appearing in the NBC daytime drama The Doctors. She also appeared on The Edge of Night and Love of Life, both produced by CBS Television.

In 2006, Ms. Huggins was cast in a starring role of an independent movie titled So Big. The movie had its debut May 3 at International House in Philadelphia.

When her coworkers learned in the spring that Ms. Huggins' illness had worsened, "it took a piece of everybody," Kane said. She refused to give in, however. "We saw her every day in the building. You saw her water the plants on her days off. . . . Channel 10 was her home. She'd come in and she'd stay for 20 minutes or 20 hours. Even when she was off."

Through all the ups and downs of the broadcast news business, Ms. Huggins maintained her professional standards, and even as she entered her 70s managed to remain on the crest of cultural and news events.

"She had not gone out to pasture. She could kick it and work. And that's what people loved about her," Kane said.

"She was an icon," said Beverly Williams, the former KYW-TV news anchor. "Edie was the nicest person. She was genuine. I'm devastated. I really am."

Ms. Huggins is survived by her son Hastings Edward, a senior administrator for IBM in Mableton, Ga., and her daughter Laurie Linn, a marketing specialist for Broadcast Advertising in Philadelphia.

They were at her side yesterday when she died.

"She was timeless," said her colleague Renee Chenault-Fattah. "She knew much more about culture and social issues than I do. She always stayed current . . . always sought out young people and shared the wisdom and knowledge she had."

During the last few weeks, Chenault-Fattah said, it became clear that her time was limited. Everyone knew the reality, she said, but Ms. Huggins seemed such a constant, "we always thought she'd return."

A memorial service is scheduled Tuesday at Bright Hope Baptist Church.

Inquirer staff writers Sam Wood and Michael Klein contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.