News & Politics

A Popular DC TV Personality’s Unexpected Death Has Shaken Fans and Colleagues

Remembering John Begeny from “If You Lived Here.”

John Begeny and Christine Louise shooting an episode of If You Lived Here. Photograph courtesy of WETA.

Last June, John Begeny had just finished filming an episode of his popular WETA real-estate program, If You Lived Here, when he started feeling too sick to work. The next weekend, he and his cohost, Christine Louise, won a Capital Emmy award, but he was too ill to attend the ceremony. The diagnosis came soon after: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. On August 21, just weeks after learning what was wrong, the 54-year-old died. Begeny’s coworkers are still reeling from the news. “It’s incomprehensible and unreal,” says Sharon Percy Rockefeller, the president of WETA. “We were all in total shock that it happened so fast.” Soon after Begeny died, the Arlington-based PBS station had to make some hard decisions about what to do with the show, which was in the middle of its fourth season. Could they keep it going without the cohost who was so integral to the program’s personality? Should they?

After it premiered on WETA in 2021, If You Lived Here quickly became a local staple. Each episode is devoted to a different neighborhood or suburb in the DC area, with Begeny and Louise touring three homes for sale at various prices. The show is more steeped in urban history and culture than ordinary house-hunting programs—local historians are often featured to share details that even residents might not know. As a public-TV pro­gram, it also is willing to delve into issues like segregation and gentrification that probably won’t show up on HGTV. “It became much more than the initial concept of just a house-­hunting show,” Begeny told Washingtonian in 2021. “It became more about neighborhoods and communities. I got to know neighborhoods that I thought I knew.”

But a big part of the appeal of If You Lived Here was always the charismatic hosts, whose genuine chemistry animated every episode. Begeny’s personal stories cropped up throughout the series, and his warm personality was central to what made it take off. Viewers enjoyed spending time with him.

Begeny had worked at WETA for more than 20 years before he got the cohosting gig. He’d been hired as a fundraiser, primarily overseeing on-air pledge drives, and was eventually named executive director of multimedia fundraising. When WETA general manager Miguel Monteverde arrived in 2019, Begeny burst into his office to introduce himself, and Monteverde immediately thought he could host a show. “On my first day, I’d already found somebody I thought would be great on TV,” Monteverde says. Hearing Begeny’s banter with Louise, his close friend and longtime fundraising coworker, Monteverde was convinced there was something there.

Photograph courtesy of WETA.

Begeny and Louise already had a habit of visiting open houses together for fun, so the real-estate concept was perfect for them. And Begeny, who had lived all over the area, was full of tidbits about Washington past and present. He could share anecdotes about partying at the long-shuttered Navy Yard nightclubs Nation and Tracks or reminisce about when the Whole Foods near Galaxy Hut in Clarendon had been just a parking lot. As If You Lived Here started filming, Begeny’s history with so many of the featured neighborhoods—from Arlington to Hyattsville to Takoma Park—became a running joke among the crew. “He was observant, and he appreciated everything about each little area he lived in,” says Louise. “John was always my tour guide.”

When Begeny received his terrible diagnosis, he met with Louise and the show’s producers to talk about the show’s future. Everyone agreed: If You Lived Here should continue. But with only four unaired episodes in the can, the season had to be put on hold. Finally, in November, it returned for its last run featuring Begeny: installments on Rosslyn, Columbia, Foggy Bottom, and, ultimately, Rockville, which was what he’d been filming in June when he first got sick. Louise filmed an emotional intro that paid tribute to her friend—and delivered the news of his death to some viewers who hadn’t heard. The Rockville episode—Begeny’s last—aired in early December.

WETA says it plans to cast a new cohost to work with Louise on future installments, though it hasn’t made any decisions beyond that. Begeny will be a hard person to replace. “You could talk to him for five minutes and feel like you’ve known him for years,” says Louise. “For people who have seen the show, the John Begeny they watched every week—that’s really how he was.”

This article appears in the January 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Ike Allen
Assistant Editor