Carlton Gary: After 41 Years….The End….But No Real Closure

Carlton Gary 4Serial killers were supposed to do their evil in Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago.  Columbus, Ga., was Colonel Chick, Katie the Cow, Miss Patsy, Wednesday night wrestling, Rozell Fabiani, Wells Dairies, Weracoba Park and the Water Wiz.

During a phone conversation with a long-time friend Thursday night, the light bulb went off in my mind.  “Do you realize I was 23 when Carlton Gary started his reign of terror?” I rhetorically asked.

Carlton Gary (a/k/a The Stocking Strangler) was executed by lethal injection Thursday night in Jackson, Ga.  Thus ends one of the longest stays on death row in the history of the Peach State.  Gary’s demise may mean the final chapter of a grievous story.   Yet, for those of us who lived through his months as a domestic terrorist, the story will never depart our minds.

Forty-one years ago, I was in my sophomore year as a Columbus anchor and reporter.  Only three weeks earlier, I moved from WRBL to WTVM.

As a little boy who lived between 1956 and 1961 in the parsonage of Sherwood Methodist Church on 35th Street, the idea of one man striking terror into our city was unthinkable.  People kept their doors unlocked in the daytime.  Men left toolboxes in their yards without fear of theft.  Kids walked or rode bikes to school.

When a police monitor blared out a suspicious call on a Friday afternoon in September 1977, none of us on the Action 9 News team had a clue we were about to experience the first chapter of a real life murder mystery.

Because most of us were editing other stories for the 7 o’clock newscast, Mitzi Oxford—who had just moved into the role as WTVM’s lead weathercaster—went to the scene.

Ferne Jackson, sister-in-law of the former state senator and future Columbus mayor Harry Jackson, was found dead—-strangled to death with a nylon stocking.  Ms. Jackson was 60.  A debate ensued in our newsroom and with other media in town as to whether the word “elderly” should be used as a descriptive adverb for Ms. Jackson.

At the time, we did not have a weekend newscast on WTVM but general manager Lynn Avery was concerned enough that he made a rare appearance onto our set during a commercial break.

Carlton Gary 5Addressing my co-anchor and news director Kathy Pepino, Avery asked:  “Are you going to commission people to be on call in case something else happens?”  Kathy assured him she had things under control.  Avery was oblivious to the fact that he was still talking to us on live television, back turned to the camera, when the break ended.

I checked in Saturday morning. Kathy gave me the okay to go on to Auburn with my buddy John Hamilton.  We saw the Tigers take one on the chin against Southern Mississippi 24-13.  We talked a bit about Ferne Jackson’s murder on the drive back to Columbus.  Mostly, John griped about Auburn coach Doug Barfield’s playcalling.

Eight days later, I was called early on Sunday morning.  The fear was a second woman had been strangled to death.  A production videographer met me near Cross Country Plaza in front of the home of 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein.  Neighbors nervously walked around their yards amidst a plethora of police cars.

Realtor Charlie Morgan’s wife agreed to talk on camera.  She said, “What’s going on in our town?  We’re all scared to death.”  As much as I was glad to have the comment for my story, I questioned Ms. Morgan’s wisdom in offering it.

I talked to a couple of police officers.  They were reluctant to say anything.  One, however, told me Ms. Dimenstein’s murder fit the same pattern as did Ms. Jackson’s.

Eventually, I was sent to four of the crime scenes.  With each passing one, I became more emotionally nauseous.  Every time we heard certain codes on that police monitor, we questioned if this would be another murder.  Five more times, it was.

Over the next several months, I saw the best and worst of journalism in Columbus.  I also saw and heard the best and worst in our community.

The strong suit in Columbus media during those horrific months was relentlessness.  Police Chief Curtis McClung, a man I genuinely respected, was old school when it came to answering reporters’ questions about the murders.  He favored saying nothing.

Ultimately, the leadership of the Columbus Press Club—-which was headed by Ledger-Enquirer reporter David Everett at the time—-forced the hand of Chief McClung.  David Hopkins, a former WRBL reporter with law enforcement experience, was hired as public information officer for the Columbus Police Department.

Prayer vigils for the community and Sunday sermons addressing the rampant fear were on the rise.  As one who was a pastor’s son and understood the devout religious life in Columbus, I convinced Kathy that we needed to do a series of reports on the role of the church in helping the community through the crisis.  One of the first of the citywide services of unity was at nearby Wynnton United Methodist Church.  Little did those in attendance realize one of that church’s own would eventually be a victim.

Carlton Gary 3Religion reporting is one of the most glaring deficits in local television newsrooms across the nation.  In 1978, the first of my 13 Associated Press awards for reporting was for that series on the church as a solace in a time of community crisis.

At times, we were sent on assignments that made us uncomfortable.  My videographer Lee Davis and I were sent to cover the burial service of one of the victims.  While we stayed at a considerable distance from the tent to shoot our footage, we could not escape the wrath of mourners who were aghast at our presence.

One woman, intent on giving me a piece of her mind, railed.  “You news people have no heart, no concern, no compassion for these people,” she said.  “The very idea of you showing up with a camera when this family is grieving.  I want you to know how I feel.”

As we drove away, Lee and I both expressed our misgivings.  “You know, a funeral service and a burial are a private thing,” Lee said.  “Aren’t you supposed to ask for permission to shoot video at something like that?”  I agreed.

“I didn’t like the way that lady chewed us out,” I said, “but I don’t blame her for being upset.  We just showed up.”

When we returned to the newsroom, we made the request not to be sent to any more funeral services or internments unless the victim’s family had given us permission.  I made that a policy several years later when I became a news director, even if every one of my colleagues disagreed with that decision.

At one point after the fourth strangling, I encountered my friend and former WRBL colleague David Eisen at a pizza restaurant.  We discussed having been mutually warned by police to examine the inside of our cars at night before entering them.

“I don’t unlock my door until I check the back seat and the passenger’s side up front,” David told me.

I followed the same procedure.  Concerns had been shared with us by some authorities that this serial killer might try to go after a journalist.  Reason existed to believe that he fit the profile of one who would watch news coverage of his exploits.  If he became angered at the reports, he could take his ire out on a newscaster.

Carlton Gary 1Another debate ensued in the community and within newsrooms after the third murder over use of the label “The Stocking Strangler.”  Many callers were upset at the reference.  One scoured me about it on the phone.

“We don’t need to be compared with The Boston Strangler in Columbus, Georgia,” he said.  “All you’re doing is giving him more spotlight.  Don’t you have anything better to do than that?”  That was one of the nicer calls.

For a while, we compromised on a reference to “The Columbus Strangler,” but national media outlets, especially ABC News, solidified the name “Stocking Strangler” to our unknown villain.

The worst of our community erupted after retired teacher Martha Thurmond’s murder.  To a degree, the people who participated in a semi-witch hunt might have been forgiven because the entire city was desperate for an arrest.

One evening, between our 7 and 11 o’clock newscasts, we fielded approximately 600 calls in the WTVM newsroom.  A rumor spread like wildfire that led to people fingering a young man as the strangler and accusations toward journalists that we were protecting him.  The scuttlebutt followed a predictable pattern.  People knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew the young man was the killer because he once was treated for emotional illness.

One of many calls I took went something like this:  “Y’all all know who did it.  Every last one of y’all know who did it but y’all are just covering up for him because his Daddy was a big name.”  Daddy, in this case, was a recently deceased Columbus television executive.

Many amateur armchair detectives put two and two together.  Their equation added up to an answer of eight but for about a month, a significantly vocal element in Columbus were certain the man’s son was the killer.  No rational or reasoned argument would convince them otherwise.  Even a man in my church insisted we were covering up the strangler’s identity.

Thank goodness social media did not exist 41 years ago.  The new generation of conspiracy theorists have raised the same name again online in recent weeks.

One of our women reporters, whom I considered to be a tough cookie and still do, took a call one night from a most irrational viewer who accused her and our entire news team of creating unnecessary hysteria.  The caller, a woman, called our reporter an unprintable name and engaged in a personal attack.  I never saw my colleague emotionally break down before or after that night but she exploded in tears.

Carlton Gary 2We were all accused of attempting to use the story of the Stocking Strangler to further our personal careers.  One man let me know in no uncertain terms at a school Halloween carnival where I was judging costumes.

“You’re just sensationalizing everything so you can go to New York,” the man, who never introduced himself, said.  “I don’t know how I could live with myself the way you go on and on about these murders every night.”

I offered an edited number of those reactions for a column in 2004 in Electronic Media magazine titled, “The Viewers Don’t Always Get It Right.”

Not only were we not looking to go to New York, more than one of us pondered whether we might consider an alternate career.  The emotional toll was enormous on all but the most emotionless of journalists.  I often entered the newsroom at WTVM at 2:30 in the afternoon dreading the prospect of having to inform viewers of yet another murder.  In that day, no one considered the novel idea of employing mental health counselors to help reporters decompress.  We could have hugely benefited from their therapy in 1978.

On a weekend trip home to Kingsland, Ga., I discussed the prospect of getting out of TV news with my father.  He gave me his usual wise advice.  “If you want to do that, just be sure it’s not because you’re running from it,” he said.  “But you’re going to find it’s not easy in any other job you do, even in the church.”

My father, Rev. F.J. Beverly Jr., knew of which he spoke.  He dealt with at least a couple of troublesome congregations in his years as a pastor.

We had one brief moment of celebration during those eight exasperating months.  On a Saturday morning in February 1978, I was called to a home in the same radius where six of the seven murders occurred.  Ruth Schwob was a prominent resident of Columbus.  In her late seventies, Ms. Schwob did not even stand five feet tall.  Physically, she was as fit as any woman her age.  That fact saved her life.

At approximately 3 a.m., Ms. Schwob heard a noise outside her bedroom.  In the darkness, she sensed a figure approaching.  At the moment the intruder would likely have wrapped a nylon stocking around her throat, she took a desperation swing and popped her invader in the jaw.  That gave her a split second to hit a bedside button that triggered a loud burglar alarm.  Carlton Gary ran.

One sensed the 200,000 residents of Columbus collectively standing as one to applaud Ruth Schwob.  At 2 o’clock that afternoon, Ms. Schwob spoke with me briefly.  She managed a smile and thankfulness that she escaped a fatal attack.

WTVM still did not have a weekend newscast.  Television in markets such as Columbus was still a few years away from live remote units.  Lynn Avery opted to open up three minutes at 7 p.m. for a special report on Ruth Schwob’s survival.  I taped an open and close and narrated video of the police presence and gathering of people around Ms. Schwob’s home, inserting her brief comments.  I have no idea how Lynn arrived at a decision on adjusting commercial content in “Gunsmoke,” which we aired from 7 to 8 p.m.

Our sudden joy was about to turn sour.  The next afternoon, we were startled to learn that yet another victim had been claimed by The Stocking Strangler.  Only two blocks down the street from Ruth Schwob’s home, another woman in her late seventies—Mildred Borom—was found dead.  Police were certain the strangler went to Ms. Borom’s home immediately after he was scared away from Ms. Schwob’s.  The coroner placed time of death at approximately 3:45 a.m. the previous morning.

One visitor we saw frequently in Columbus was Bob Sirkin, the Atlanta correspondent for ABC News.  At one point, he was almost adopted as a member of Action 9 News when he came to town to file reports on the strangler.  One day, Bob showed us his technique of doing standups in his reports.  He recorded his transition on a small cassette recorder, attached an earphone inside his right ear and repeated what he heard himself saying on tape when he reported on camera.  I tried it twice and gave it up.  Saying what I was just saying on a recording created a distracting echo effect for me.  Nonetheless, Bob was a generous guy and once told us, “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you people to be doing this night after night with the whole city up in arms.”

At one point in 1978, I faced an encounter with my general manager which grew testy.  An old friend from college, Nadine Stewart—who later went on to work for NBC News and CNN—called me from Jacksonville.  Calling on behalf of her news director, Nadine asked if it were possible for me to do a story for WJXT on the effect of the stranglings on the city of Columbus.  My new boss Dave Richardson okayed it with the caveat that I not neglect my work for our newscasts.  I used a lot of file tape and soundbites from interviews which I had saved.  I shot one fresh standup closer.  I edited the piece in about an hour one evening after my workday was over.

The story aired on the Saturday night edition of Eyewitness News on WJXT, which Nadine anchored.  A little more than a week later, I was blindsided by Lynn Avery when I came into the building at WTVM for work.

“Do you have any explanation for this?” Lynn asked.

He immediately presented me with an envelope addressed to me on a WJXT mailing label.  “How many more of these am I going to expect to see?  How many more stations are you applying to?  Do you dislike it so much here that you’re trying to get out?” he questioned.

I was utterly stunned.  To be candid, WJXT was a station I grew up watching from the third grade through college.  Had I ever been offered an opportunity to work there, I would have seriously considered it.  I had no offer.  I had sought no job.  I loved WTVM and Columbus because the city was one of my two hometowns.  The envelope contained the tape on which I had done the story on the Stocking Strangler as a favor to Nadine.

“Why don’t we go in Dave’s office and I think you’ll have proof that this was not an audition tape?” I told Lynn with a combination of irritation and trepidation.  Our boss had largely treated me well but he also had a reputation for a quick trigger on employees.  Lynn was also paranoid about the job section in Broadcasting magazine.  For a period, he ripped out the employment pages before he released the publication for station consumption.

Dave Richardson confirmed that he had cleared me to do the story for WJXT and that, to his knowledge, I was not looking for another job.  Lynn left but exited with a mild warning that he never wanted to see another tape with another station’s mailing label addressed to me.

When Janet (Cindy) Cofer became the final victim of The Stocking Strangler in the spring of 1978, we had no way of knowing she was the last.  For months, we continued to work as if we had a perpetual police radio going off in our ears.

Reporters came and went over the next three years at WTVM.  Gradually, our attention drifted to other community issues.  In 1980, my colleague Andy Still and I collaborated on a documentary on political interference in public safety in Columbus.  A fire captain named Jeff Amerson became the central figure in the controversy.  Fire department whistleblower Frankie Fussell dramatically revealed in sworn testimony the demands of a mysterious orthopedic surgeon who ordered that the fire chief and several senior fire supervisors “have got to go.”  Andy and I were nominated for a DuPont-Columbia Award for that 90-minute documentary.

Eventually, I made a difficult decision to leave Columbus in late 1981.  Over the next two years, I made stops in Mississippi, in Spartanburg, S.C. (as assistant news director at WSPA) and Savannah, Ga.

In May 1984, I was in my first week as news director of WWAY in Wilmington, N.C.  My phone rang shortly before noon.

“Are you sitting down?” the voice asked.  I knew immediately the caller was Andy Still, who was now anchor at WSAV in Savannah.

“They’re having a police convention here and I went out to have coffee with (then Columbus police chief) Jim Wetherington,” Andy said.  “He was called to the phone.  When he came back, he said, ‘Looks like I’m going to have to leave early.  That call was about an arrest in Albany.  They think this may be the strangler.’ ”

For once, a name could be attached to the most infamous individual crime wave in Columbus history.  Carlton Gary would be extradited to Columbus.  Two years later, he stood trial and was convicted of the murders of three of the women he was suspected of killing.

I finally left daily television news in 1992 to become a college professor of broadcast journalism.  My parents retired to their native city of Waycross, Ga.

As the years rolled on, the conversation during visits to Columbus or Waycross would periodically revert to Carlton Gary.  At times, adjectives such as “despicable” and “vile” would be among the kinder ones to refer to the convicted Stocking Strangler.

As the years evolved into decades, residents in Columbus who had lived through the nightmare became weary with the legal system.  Appeal after appeal, motion after motion for a new trial, and attempts to challenge evidence from the original trial dragged on five, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years after his convictions.  Twice over those years, I was asked to be a contributor to local news retrospectives on the stranglings and Gary.

Sure, people with adamant views against capital punishment held to their stand that even the most heinous of murders should not be punished with death.  Yet, when I returned for visits to Columbus to see family, friends or old colleagues, the prevailing view was of frustration that Carlton Gary was still alive.

Today, I supervise a daily newscast produced and anchored by my students at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.  Many times, when the situation is appropriate, I have woven stories for them about the odyssey of The Stocking Strangler.  Usually, those tales are in answer to the question of what was the most difficult story I ever reported.

Many people in the television audience have the misguided perception that journalists thrive on violence and death.  In their minds, a serial killer is fodder for a career to skyrocket and for ratings to soar.  Success at the hands of murder is the perception of some segments of the audience to journalists and television news.

My answer to that is for anyone to try measuring the many, many nights we left WTVM after the 11 o’clock news, arrived at our individual homes or apartments and could not sleep well.  Our worries were the same as the community’s as a whole.  I was a member of a church that had a number of senior-aged women who could easily have been targets.

Thursday night, as I watched the live reports from Jackson on both WTVM and WRBL on my Roku television set, I was struck by a stark notion.  None of the reporters assigned to cover the execution of Carlton Gary were even born when his rampage began.  They know what they have researched or been told about his dark mark on Columbus history.  Yet, they didn’t live it.  Emotionally, they have no idea what those months were like.

Carlton Gary VictimsThe word “closure” is almost becoming a reporting cliche.  I may add it to Twitter’s @TiredTVTerms.  I counted at least twelve times on Columbus stations Thursday night that reporters used sentences to the effect, “The execution of Carlton Gary will finally bring closure for the families and close friends of the victims.”  At one point, I said, “Will it?”  The popular perception today is that a conviction or an execution brings an end to the story.  Contemporary media perpetuates that idea.  With something as despicable as Carlton Gary’s mindless acts, the story may end for those writing the book.  Emotionally, closure never comes for people who lived through the fear and torment.

Two generations have passed since Carlton Gary first struck terror on a Friday afternoon in 1977.  All of the victims would now be more than 100 years old were they still alive.  A number of the seven women’s children have left us.  The grandchildren and great grandchildren no longer have to live with the worry of whether their ancestor’s killer will live or die.  Many of those who were the absolute closest to the victims left this earth without having any closure.

For those of us who lived, worked, reported, and feared those eight horrific months in 1977 and 1978, we can never truly close the door.  No, closure is not an accurate word.  Too many of us still want to ask the one question that will forever stump us about Carlton Gary:  why?  That answer now goes with him to his grave.

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It’s Time for Me to Go Away: Farewell to TV Basketball after 25 Years

February 25, 2017

On-air retirement announcement of Steve Beverly as TV voice of the Union University Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs after 25 years at the mike:

Years ago….a broadcaster whom I greatly respected…..Gordon Solie…..began his commentaries with the phrase, “And now….a personal word….if you will.”

So to you…..my friends at home…..this is a personal word to close out this telecast.

Ending a season is never easy because seniors graduate and we won’t see them again on this floor. Seniors also graduate from our broadcast team that brings you these games.

We’re losing our senior producer and director Thomas Gray to graduation at the end of this semester. We will indeed miss Thomas and his leadership. I’m also grateful to our entire crew whose names you see at the end of each Bulldog telecast because they are the ones who make the engine run for Union basketball on TV.

happy-trioNo matter how difficult it is to say goodbye to a season…..it’s far more difficult to say goodbye to a career.

Today brings down the curtain on 25 years of these regular visits with you as I’ve attempted to tell the stories of the Union Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs and their many adventures on this basketball court that now bears the name of The Legend himself David Blackstock.

When I started, I still had a fairly thick…if declining head of hair…..and I was a young fellow of 38. I’ve somehow endured through five American presidents and three Union presidents.

I remember the morning Coach Blackstock called me at my home and asked in that distinctive accent of his, “Can you call our basketball game tonight on TV?”

I told him: “David, I suppose I could….but I haven’t called a game in 17 years.”

He said without a beat: “Then you’re well qualified.”

Occasionally…..I’ll go back and watch the VHS tape of that game I did with former coach Brice Bishop. It was Union vs. Lambuth. I have no earthly idea why they had me back to do a second game.

Somehow….they were patient and for some reason known perhaps only to our Lord, I’m still here.

img_7035-editedIn these 25 years, I have had the great joy to work with some wonderful people…..outstanding coaches in Mark Campbell….Dave Niven….the unpredictable Ralph Turner…..our beloved Lisa Hutchens—who left us much too early—and The Legend himself. I’m especially pleased that despite his recent health issues….
Coach Blackstock has been less than 10 feet away from me at a number of games this season.

His successor as athletic director Tommy Sadler has been enormously supportive of all of our efforts to bring television coverage to you at home…..and you who watch online.

Doing Union Basketball on TV would not be the same without the familiar faces of my good friends Don Richard….Carlo Spencer…..and Josh Simmons at the other end of this same table.

You can go across America and not find a finer sports information director than Steven Aldridge….who could be an S-I-D at any Division 1 program in America but Steven has chosen to make his home here and I’m glad he has.

I’ve also had the rare privilege of having a colleague who has become a great friend in the Hall of Fame radio voice of the Bulldogs Gerry Neese….one of the finest men I know anywhere.

In these 25 years….I’ve had the joy of mentoring more than 120 different student commentators who have joined me at the mike. Some of them….including Jonathan Huskey, Philip Tang, Steven Williams and Adam Wells have gone on to excellent sports broadcasting careers of their own. My first woman analyst….former Union All-American Lee Nunamaker Pipkin….is a talented coach in her own right and has a state championship trophy at Chester County.

I’ve had so many personal thrills and memories that I can’t begin to list them all. However….the 1997 TranSouth conference championship game on this floor when Michelle Street scored a Union record 45 points in a double overtime win over Freed Hardeman is still my favorite thriller.

Right up there were the nights when David Blackstock in 1998 and Mark Campbell in 2005 won their first N-A-I-A national championships at Oman Arena. I had 13 wonderful years as the TV voice of that great women’s tournament. Five of those years….I called Union taking home the banner as national champion. Many broadcasters go through an entire lifetime without a chance to call a title game of any kind. For that, I have been especially proud and humbled.

img_7033One of America’s finest broadcasters is Tim Brando. I’m proud that he has become a friend and mentor to me in recent years. Tim has reminded me several times never to minimize the importance of the role of a broadcaster at the N-A-I-A or N-C-Double-A Division 2 level. “Somebody has to do those games,” he told me. He also said, “Always remember that when you call a game, it means as much to those kids as it does to any kid at the Division 1 level.” That’s why I’ve always tried to give my best at this microphone. It’s these young people who matter most.

A difficult challenge for any sports broadcaster is to know when it’s time. In recent months….we’ve seen the legendary Verne Lundquist and Brent Musberger put a final bow on their storied careers.

The tough part is how to avoid hanging on too long. No broadcaster should hold onto a seat just for the sake of longevity…..but it’s a struggle to know when to say when.

A few weeks ago after our TV doubleheader on January 12th, for a variety of reasons, I knew it was time.

Ultimately, after a lot of discussion and prayer…..I made the decision to retire as the television voice of the Union Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs effective with the end of this broadcast.

It’s not necessarily the time I want to hang it up. I feel healthy enough and I could probably go on another couple of years.

But several circumstances have led me to the conclusion that I can no longer deliver in this role at a standard that I feel is my professional best. A number of reasons have led me to that evaluation…..some of which will remain personal.

To continue in a fashion where I cannot do my best would be unfair to the athletes whose exploits I have described for a quarter of a century……to Union University……or to you, the viewers.

20160311_113813I will miss the visits that we have had together these 25 years…..but the increasing pressures and responsibilities required to prepare these broadcasts and some related circumstances have compromised my ability to perform at a level that I feel is acceptable.

I will continue to see you as a commentator on Jackson 24-7……and on our weekly Saturday and Sunday night excursions into the world of TV Classics on TV6.

But this evening….I reflect the words of a man I esteem as one who should be on the Mount Rushmore of basketball broadcasters. The great Dick Enberg said on his final night on CBS: “As a sports commentator, it’s time for me to go away.” Likewise, it is time for me to go away.

I’m extraordinarily grateful that you at home who have watched us regularly over these years have accepted me for as long as you have…..and been kind enough to forgive my many mistakes and my rather unorthodox humor.

It’s a relationship I value and will always treasure as a golden memory.

I’ve truly enjoyed our visits in your home and I sincerely hope all of you will continue your support of the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs—-on television and in person.

I hate long goodbyes—-so I will close this one out by simply saying…..for the 610th and last time at this microphone—–this is Steve Beverly saying, “God bless you….and so long…..from the great Hub City of West Tennessee!”

Yes, Depression Happens in the TV Newsroom, Too (Part 3: My Own Story)

Ten years ago, sharing this story would have been difficult.  Today, opening up about my personal bouts with depression over the past 26 years is essential. We don’t have a data base of exact…

Source: Yes, Depression Happens in the TV Newsroom, Too (Part 3: My Own Story)

Yes, Depression Happens in the TV Newsroom, Too (Part 2 of 4)

Depression is often referred to as “the silent illness.”  The symptoms are often more difficult to spot than a change in a wart or mole.  One does not usually have a noticeable cough or respiratory ailment.  A torn heart or emotion is not as easy to diagnose as a torn ligament.

Depression is also a silent illness because of the reluctance for victims to admit they have it, or to risk the stigma—though significantly less traumatic and inconsiderate than 40 years ago—of telling friends or family members they need help.

When one’s profession is television news, image is at least occasionally deceiving.  The demand is to be thorough, authoritative and convincing to an often incisively-critical audience.  The image with viewers is cultivated over months and years of familiarity, often no more than 90 seconds per night for reporters.

Viewers often have inflated views of the salaries of local television anchors and reporters (and let us not eschew those producers, videographers, assignment editors and production assistants who keep the daily machine going).  The on-air faces and voices are not supposed to have down days, sadness, or the blues.  After all—they’re all on TV!

Yet, depression strikes often as the Biblical reference 0f “a thief in the night.” Not until late in his life did we learn of how depression affected a journalistic icon, Mike Wallace.

After a career largely in entertainment until “The Mike Wallace Interview” on ABC and “Nightbeat” on local New York television in the late 1950s transformed him into a relentless, grilling interviewer, Wallace became the signature image of “60 Minutes” from its launch in 1968 on CBS.

Corporate executives and politicians enjoyed seeing Wallace headed their way as much as coastal vacationers and residents thrill to see Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel walking down a beach before an approaching hurricane.

The image of Mike Wallace was one of the ruggedly handsome, mentally-tough, unflappable journalist who never had a softball question in his preparatory notes.

In January 2002, Wallace publicly detailed his own personal struggle with depression in a story for Guideposts.  Eighteen years earlier, Wallace became the lead correspondent for a CBS News documentary, “The Uncounted Enemy:  A Vietnam Deception.”  The controversial report explored long-suspicioned details of commanders during the Vietnam conflict underestimating the size and strength of the Viet Cong.  

Many of the pointed allegations in the documentary were targeted at General William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces in Southeast Asia from 1964 to 1968.

Westmoreland, at first, was highly critical of the broadcast.  Pressure after a TV Guide review of “The Uncounted Enemy” led to an internal ombudsman investigation that suggested CBS News producers did not follow prescribed network journalism procedures in all instances during the documentary.  

Wallace, himself, was not personally infected by the internal review.  However, he was well aware that as the face and voice of “The Uncounted Enemy,” his reputation could be potentially tarnished.

Gen. Westmoreland filed a $120 million libel suit against CBS and Wallace that went to trial.

“I felt I was on trial for my life,” Wallace told Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein in a 2009 interview.  The veteran correspondent listened to people he had never met and did not know attacking his integrity.  He confessed to being publicly humiliated.

The legal experience, Wallace said, led to his first major bout with depression.  

He detailed the progression in the Guideposts story:

Day after day, I sat trapped in room 318 at the courthouse, hearing people I didn’t even know attack the work I’d done…The truth, I was to learn from Dr. Marvin Kaplan, the psychiatrist I started seeing, was something I’d never imagined. My defenses were pretty much broken down by then. I told him about the trial; about the doubts that plagued me; about not being able to eat, sleep or enjoy the things I used to. “You feel as you do, Mr. Wallace, because you are experiencing clinical depression,” Dr. Kaplan explained.

Eventually, the depression sank to a depth that Wallace took sleeping pills in a suicide attempt.  Taken to a hospital, doctors pumped his stomach and revived him.

Immediately, he was sent for psychiatric treatment, though the official line from CBS News was that Wallace was “hospitalized for exhaustion.”

Extensive talk therapy and carefully-regulated antidepressants restored his emotional health, though he still experienced less severe bouts with depression in his later years.

Westmoreland dropped his lawsuit in 1985 after gaining negotiated admissions from CBS News about the lack of attention to network news guidelines.

Still, the entire experience had taken its toll on Wallace, who eventually returned to his 60 Minutes assignments.

That is but one experience of the pressures and risks of journalism that can lead to depression.  

The daily grind and constant exposure to death, critical injuries and the destructive side of life create a vulnerability to emotional illnesses and disorders for reporters as well as videographers.

Dr. Rony Berger, who directs the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War has written extensively about the emotional challenges for journalists.

“They are at risk for developing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, anxiety and stagnation responses, nervousness, sleep disturbances and excessive physical tension,” Berger writes.

Berger also suggests that depression and exhaustion are potential long-term effects for repeated exposure to traumatic journalism experiences.  “Continuous work in pressured situations can lead to burnout, which is expressed by emotional and physical fatigue, a feeling of being overburdened and helpless, cynical behavior and callousness towards others and the self, outbursts of anger and a general lack of satisfaction,” Berger writes.

In a research project for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia Journalism School, Dr. River Smith, Dr. Elena Newman and Dr. Susan Drevo collaborated on an examination of the effects of trauma and stress on journalists.

“Journalists frequently bear witness to human suffering whether covering mass disasters or individual atrocities; however, little is known regarding the impact of such exposure on the well-being of journalists,” they wrote.  “Researchers in the field of traumatic stress are only beginning to examine the toll this line of work may have on the health of journalists.”  (See details of report)

The Smith-Newman-Drevo project strongly recommends news organizations to do more to provide emotional and psychological support for their staffs.

“This may include educating journalists about the psychological risks involved in their line of work, decreasing the frequency and intensity of exposure to traumatic news assignments, and providing appropriate resources for coping with the emotional toll of these assignments,” the report concludes.  “Aiding connectedness to social networks within and outside of the organization may also be of benefit. As the news room culture shifts towards increasing organizational support and decreasing organizational stressors the likely result is reduced risk of harm.”

Those are the examples of a journalistic legend’s experience with depression and the academic and psychological studies.  Now, for the practicalities.

After I posted the first segment of this blog on journalism and depression, I received a number of emails from reporters and anchors from around the nation, particularly in smaller to medium markets.

Interestingly, the ratio of responses were 4-to-1 female to male.  One young woman said she had been a reporter for more than a year but was having difficulty adjusting to the amount of violent crime she was covering.

“I covered four murders in my first six months and several other crime situations that resulted in near-death,” she wrote.  “I knew that would be part of it when I became a reporter, but I didn’t count on staying awake at night trying to put some of these situations out of my mind, especially when children were affected.”

That’s a perfectly normal reaction, but with some news executives who have a traditional mentality, it’s either get with the program and accept this is part of the drill, or get out.

Another medium market reporter wrote to me:  “I’ve been dealing with some of the kinds of depression you wrote about.  Unfortunately, my company does not have visits for counseling in our insurance plan and I can’t afford it on my salary.”  

I made some alternative suggestions, but that very email pointed out a genuine issue that some news organizations still do not have as a priority.  Our own Dr. Joanne Stephenson at Union University explains it this way:

Depression is no different from a broken leg or an abscessed tooth.  It just happens to be your emotions rather than a bone.  What people fail to recognize is that emotional illness can be brought on by a physical breakdown, such as exhaustion or lack of sleep because of trauma from repeated exposure to violent or negative situations.  If you had a broken arm or a broken leg, you wouldn’t try to set it yourself.  Neither can you repair what causes depression without help.

On the positive side, my former boss Dave Richardson told me when he was news director at WTLV in Jacksonville, staff members did have insurance coverage that took care of up to five visits for counseling.  In the period since my first segment, I have learned that this is the norm in a majority—but far from all—-local news organizations.

A friend who anchors in the Orlando market told me when the mass nightclub shooting erupted that took the lives of 49 people last summer, station management was quick to consider the emotional well-being of the news staff.

“Our management brought in mental health counselors to help our people cope with the tragedy,” she said.  “Many of these were experienced reporters but they had never seen anything like this.  None of us had.  Some of our people had to have time to decompress.”

Talk therapy helped a number of these journalists get through the constant barrage of followup reporting that continued incessantly for more than a week.  The psychologists were also on call for emergency situations.

Earlier in this blogpost, I referred to the Dart Center.  Through its work, Columbia provides targeted counseling services for journalists.  Among the programs is peer group talk therapy.

In a blog entitled Stress Points, the group sessions followed Brian Kelly, a Canadian videographer:

Since it is a common attitude in the journalism culture to “just get over it,” learning how to talk empathically to fellow journalists was very important. He recognized that despite the different age groups of people participating, his peers had different levels of experience with trauma, different responses to trauma, and a fundamental openness to talk about it with empathy and respect for each other.

Kelly saw that he was not alone in his post-journalistic emotional reactions and was helped to see that others in his profession had similar experiences after dealing with violent and crisis situations.

As I see it, an operative phrase is that prevailing attitude in the journalism culture to “just get over it.”  That is not unlike the view of many in the outside world in confronting depression with friends or family members.  “Just snap out of it” is arguably the most frequently-offered cliche by mostly well-meaning people who have no understanding of what causes depression.

One proposal I raised in Part 1 of this series was for station management to bring in professional counselors at least twice, if not four times, per year for news staffers.  Group talk therapy sessions potentially could ease some of the emotional strain reporters face (as well as assignment editors and producers who are often in the daily enslavement to the phone and the police radio, which can take an equal toll).  With the symbiotic relationship between emotional and physical illness, such sessions could serve to save companies money from reduced stress-related employee absences.

In my personal experiences with depression, which may well have begun in a mild fashion in the mid-1980s, I experienced the culture that if one succumbed to emotional illness, one is not mentally tough.  That may be a Nick Saban view or a baby boomer male-dominated perception of depression but Saban—contrary to popular belief in Alabama—is not a god and baby boomer males did not always get it right.

Just as we are learning more about the impact of concussions on college and pro football players, we are learning more about the impact of stress, exhaustion and repeated exposure to traumatic situations on emotional illness.

Journalists are in that line of fire every day.  For every story on bicycle safety in an evening news lineup, another reporter will likely be detailing a tragedy.

In the current week of this blogpost, reporters in Tennessee have been confronted with unexpected tragedies.  In Chattanooga, the news staffs are still dealing with a school bus accident that left multiple children dead and others injured.  My friend David Carroll, long-time anchor at WRCB, has some personal reflections on his blog.  In Jackson, Tn., reporters had to cover a Thanksgiving Day stabbing at—of all places—Pathways.  The victim, a female medical professional, died.  On a day when most cities Jackson’s size focus on soup kitchens reaching out to the needy and long lines for Thundering Thursday afternoon Christmas shopping, a woman who worked at a place dedicated to healing depression and emotional illness, was murdered.

If you don’t think occurrences like that at a season of year when we are supposed to focus on peace, goodwill and giving don’t sting journalists, you are sorely mistaken.

Should their assignments carry them to exposure and followups to similar stories day after day, an emotional toll is taken.

Perhaps my friend Carroll expresses it best in the first paragraph of his blog:

My heart is hurting. We’re still trying to recover from the terrorist attack of July 16, 2015.  Five of our finest servicemen were gunned down just sixteen months ago in our backyard, near one of our busiest highways.  Let’s face it, we still haven’t made sense of that horrible act.  We will always honor their service, and their courage.  And now this. A school bus accident that has claimed the lives of six children. But as any teacher will tell you, they’re not just children.  “They’re my babies,” they will say.

Victims and the families they leave behind hurt.  Trust me, journalists do, too.

Part 3:  My own personal battles with depression and how I began the road back.

They Called Her ‘Cuz’

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Where broadcasters are concerned, my definition of the word “pioneer” is one who wrote the rules before we had any rules.

Few pioneers stay the course in one city any more.  The television business is far too migrant.

When the era of daily children’s shows ended, a part of the childhood of baby boomers was decimated.  Author Tim Hollis documented more than 1,400 local children’s shows airing from the early 1950s through the 1980s.  The hosts of these shows, usually playing a fictional character, became surrogate mothers and fathers to the thousands of kids they entertained and taught in television’s golden era.

Baby boomers in South Georgia, where I grew up, still fondly remember Ranger Hal (Henry Baron) and Skipper Ed (Ed McCullers) in Jacksonville, Captain Mercury (Grady Shadburn) in Albany, Miss Patsy (Patsy Avery) and Colonel Chick (Chick Autry) in Columbus, and the immortal Cap’n Sandy (Joe Cox) in Savannah.

In my town of Jackson, Tn., a call came to my house Saturday morning that I knew ultimately would bring some sad news.

Doris Freeman, the first woman broadcaster in Jackson and West Tennessee history, passed away peacefully at the age of 91.  Her grandson Brad Little said, “Her body finally just gave out.”

Few people in Jackson called her Doris.  In the 1940s, as a performer on radio and on old-time hillbilly shows, Doris created a character, Cousin Tuny, that became a Tennessee legend.  Tuny could have been the cousin or little sister of her friend and Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl.  Tuny’s attire and performing style were subsidiaries of Minnie.

“I was really born Tuny and Tuny was me,” she told me in an interview for a documentary I did on her life and career in 2001.

Her brother-in-law Aaron Robinson put WDXI on the air in 1945.  Robinson hired Doris as one of his first advertising account executives.

She definitely could sell.  However, her personality was too entertaining to leave at the ad table.  She reported news.  She read the noontime hog report.  She sang on both a big band and a country music show.

In 1955, Doris filed for the FCC license to add television to WDXI’s portfolio on Channel 7.  Robinson studied the landscape of local television.  He felt he needed an afternoon children’s program to connect with the community and attract advertisers.

“The Cousin Tuny Show” was born with a ranch-style set and room for up to 20 kids to make their TV debuts.  With a tacky hat, a red-checkered dress and pantaloons, Tuny became a second mother to children from up to 60 miles from Jackson.

Birthday parties, church children’s gatherings and school groups were on waiting lists to spend an afternoon with Tuny.  So popular was the 90-minute kidfest that the show had to be moved to a movie theater stage across the street from WDXI’s downtown studios.

“We had our cartunies, as I called them,” Tuny said.  “But I wanted to teach children much more.”

After the theme song, an old creation called “Doll Dance,” opened each episode of “The Cousin Tuny Show,” Tuny greeted the boys and girls in the studio and at home, then immediately led the pledge to the flag.

“Every day, I told the children on the show and all the ‘little cousins’ at home to say their prayers, clean their plates, mind their parents, and love everybody,” she said.  “We said the blessing every day before we had our milk and cake.  You won’t find that on television any more.”

For 11 years, “The Cousin Tuny Show” was appointment TV for children—most of whom are at least in their sixties today, some of whom Tuny outlived.  In 1966, a fateful turn was a carbon copy of what happened to many kids show hosts across the nation.

WDXI was sold to Cy Bahakel Broadcasting of Charlotte, N.C.  Tuny began to see the handwriting on the wall from the station’s new general manager Jerry Quick.

“He told me, ‘We want you to continue doing the show but we want to cut it to a half-hour.  You’ll produce it and host it, sell it and answer all the mail.  We’ll give you one dollar for every commercial.’

“I thought about it and I said, to have any content you couldn’t have any more than six commercials.  That meant $6 a show—-$30 a week,” she said.  “I told him, ‘You know I don’t know what in the world I would do with all that money.’  It was obvious he was the hatchet man and they wanted the show off the air.”

Three months later, in early 1967, Tuny finished her Friday afternoon show.  Quick came onto the set after the cameras went dark.  “Thanks a lot, Tuny, it’s been great,” she recalled him saying.

Stunned, Tuny asked, “What do you mean?” She was told, “This was the last show.”  Still in shock, she said, “I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to the children at home.”  In virtual condescension, she was told, “Well, that’s the way it is.”

20160806_153754As was the case with scores of her colleagues in children’s television, Tuny was not given the dignity of a farewell show.  When callers flooded the station the following Monday, they were told Tuny “is going on to other things,” or “we’re just not going to have it any more.”

While Jackson was a one-station television market, local stations in Memphis and Nashville had begun attaching themselves to the popularity of 90-minute afternoon talk shows hosted by Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin.  Mike and Merv had strong appeal to women.  Moms began to control the television sets in late afternoons.  Kids were sent outside to play in increasing numbers rather than spend the pre-sunset period with their favorite local TV character.  Mike or Merv were a lock for an hour and a half of local and regional commercials at prices higher than a children’s show could bring.

“The Cousin Tuny Show” was history.  Over 12 years, the daily broadcast became an institution and made Doris Freeman an institution.  Viewers were beyond angry at the show’s departure but the outsider ownership and management could not have cared less.

As for Tuny, you could not keep her down.  She was in constant demand to make personal appearances all over West Tennessee despite losing the television show.

Doris Freeman was also a first-class businesswoman.  She eventually became marketing director and general manager of Old Hickory Mall in Jackson.

In the late 1960s, she began emceeing an annual telethon to raise money for Jackson’s Cerebral Palsy Center.  She had a heart for the children whose lives had left them with physical challenges.  From 1976-88, Jackson native Wink Martindale loaned his name to the telethon.  Tuny was there at every one of them.

In the ‘90s and the ‘00s, I co-hosted 16 of those telethons with her.  She taught me more about broadcasting than I learned in my entire four years at Valdosta State College and The University of Georgia.

Tell Tuny, “We need to fill four minutes and 18 seconds,” and she would fill it to the second with intelligence and wit.  If you told her to fill four hours and 18 minutes, she could have done the same thing.

In 1981, Tuny teamed with rockabilly music legend Carl Perkins to do a second annual telethon for the Exchange Club Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.  I did nine of those with Tuny and Carl until his death.

In 1990, I was named news director of WBBJ (the former WDXI) in Jackson.  For a variety of reasons I will soon discuss on this blog, I lapsed into depression in the summer of 1991.  I managed to force myself to attend a media luncheon to preview that year’s Carl Perkins Telethon.  I sat next to Tuny, who had only known me for about a year.

“Something’s not right, is it?” she asked.  Ordinarily, I would have deferred answering that question honestly.  However, if Tuny called you “cuz,” you could guarantee you were friend for life.  I told her, “No it isn’t.”  She knew the intense pressure I was under to rebuild a news department that had been virtually left unattended for eight months as the station searched for a news director and general manager.  The resources were not nearly enough to do the job right.  I was exhausted, overworked and folding quickly.

Tuny took me back to her office at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital where she was public relations director.  “I want you to take this book, but don’t just set it on your coffee table or your shelf.  Read it,” she said.  I might have otherwise done what she suspected.  Instead, I read the inspirational book by Og Mandino.  In short, he offered a message that the road back from depression includes letting go of the guilt one feels for being in that condition.  Months of medication and therapy, as well as clinging to the Bible for encouragement, finally brought me back from the depths.  Yet, the book Tuny loaned me planted a note of hope in me that I needed to stop blaming myself for the emotional straights I was experiencing.

That’s the kind of person she was.  If one of my reporters was feeling a sense of discouragement, Tuny was often a mother counselor.  Pam Nash, long-time director of the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, told me Saturday, “Tuny was my confidant.  I can’t tell you the number of times when something wasn’t going right and we’d sit on her porch.  We’d talk things out and she’d help me figure out an answer.”

For children who didn’t grow up in the “Cousin Tuny Show” era, Doris’s identity as Tuny continued through the telethons.

In 1999 and 2004, we had two chances to revisit television history.  The telethon producers surprised Tuny midway through the nine-hour fundraiser 17 years ago by re-creating the old Cousin Tuny set, complete with cartoon characters on the backdrop and 20 children to interact with a master of children’s entertainment.

A Jackson woman had even uncovered a brief silent 8mm color film of the day she had appeared on “The Cousin Tuny Show” at least 35 years earlier.

Tuny was at her best, acting as a female Art Linkletter.  “Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked one child.  “Nope” was the quick response.  “Yes she does,” came a response from across the set.  “She has two.”  Tuny, still quick on the rejoinder, asked, “Isn’t that just like a bunch of women?”

Twelve years ago, Jackson Energy Authority entered the broadband internet/cable business.  As a professor of broadcast journalism at Union University, I entered into an agreement with the good people of JEA to provide news, sports and special programming for EPlusTV6, the local cable channel, as part of a laboratory for my students.

That first December in 2004, as a final project for fall semester, we recruited 14 children of Union University parents, built an inexpensive set, and my students learned a bundle by producing “The Cousin Tuny Christmas Show.”

We brought in a cake, milk and orange juice.  Tuny worked with producer April Houston and my crew with a basic outline of what she wanted to do.  As in every single one of her shows in 12 years on Channel 7, Tuny had no script.

“I did it from my heart,” Tuny said.  “I knew that children could see right through you if you were just reading off a Teleprompter.  You had to communicate with love and kindness.  You can’t do that with a script.”

We produced five 60-second snippets of my on-air students working with children to produce craft and gift ideas for Christmas.  They were inserted as breaks into Tuny’s special.  When she saw the final project, she loved the inserts because they maintained the Christmas theme of the show.

One dark period in the ’00s taught a few people a great lesson.  You don’t mess with an institution in a small television market.

A new executive director was hired to run the Cerebral Palsy Center in Jackson.  He and a couple of cohorts decided the annual telethon needed a new, younger, hipper look to energize the community’s contributions.

The man decided the time had come to end the Cousin Tuny era on the telethon.  However, he did not have the professional and ethical decency to call to tell her directly.  As a personal friend who had a long career in network television until the 1990s once told me, “When they decide they aren’t going to call you, they don’t call to tell you that.  They just don’t call you.”

That year’s Cerebral Palsy telethon went on the air with a combination of people who looked like guests in the wrong house.  My long-time friend and colleague Dee Ann Culbreath and I were assigned to anchor from the phone banks from 3 to 6 p.m.

The telephone operators were employees of the Center.  When I arrived, those operators and callers began flooding me with questions about when Tuny was going to come.  “She’s not,” I said.  They were aghast.  When asked why, I responded, “Ask your boss.”

The callers evolved from people intending to pledge to rage at Tuny’s absence and the lack of explanation.

When the telethon ended, pledges had fallen to a level not seen in nearly 30 years.  Three days later, the executive director was summarily dismissed.

The following year, a promo aired for two weeks prior to the telethon.  “I’m baaaaaaack,” said the enthusiastic voice in her traditional red attire.  Contributions nearly tripled with the return of Cousin Tuny.  In Jackson, Tn., you don’t mess with an institution.

In the spring of 2015, Tuny celebrated her 90th birthday at Regency Retirement Living.  Everybody who was anybody in Jackson turned out.  My students were producing a documentary on senior living in the city.  The celebration was a perfect segment for the half-hour.

“I’ve lived a wonderful life,” Tuny said.  “I’ve been blessed to have so many friends and to live in the greatest city in the world.  And I love all of my little cuzzins, some of them who are grandparents now.  I don’t know why I’m still around—-but I am.”

During the last two years, Tuny—whose health was beginning to fail—still managed to make her way in a wheelchair to do a few hours of the Carl Perkins Telethon.  When it came to children, she could not say no if in some small way she could help them have a better life.

“Children need encouragement.  We need to teach them three four-letter words—-WORK, LOVE and PRAY,” she said.  “If you wonder why we have so many problems today—it’s because we don’t have enough people teaching those to children.”

This coming Sunday, the annual Carl Perkins Telethon—the last of its kind in West Tennessee in a dying genre of broadcast fundraisers—will once again air.  An institution will not be there.  We knew that day would come—-but as we often said in recent years, “I hope it’s not this year.”

Today, television station managers aren’t looking for the next Cousin Tuny.  Their afternoon schedules are crammed full of dysfunctional families, people with aberrant behavior and contrived conflicts for TV psychologists or judges to resolve.  The greater the antagonism or the more angst between parties, the better.

We have become such a viewing culture that we have to constantly yell and scream at each other.  We whip an audience into a frenzy to offer daily standing ovations to national personalities who hardly deserve them.

We have closed the door to anything gentle and kind on television because that does not create an emotional response from the audience.  Maybe with Hallmark movies but not on syndicated television in the afternoon.

Cousin Tuny was not just a television personality.  She gave from her heart to children every day.  I still encounter people frequently who say, “I was on her show and it was one of the fondest memories of my childhood.”  Far more people have been telling stories of their day on TV with Tuny since the news of her death spread through West Tennessee last Saturday.

She was there for me at one of the lowest points of my life.  She always enjoyed a good, hefty laugh.  If you were her cuz, she truly cared about you.

Her grandson Brad said Saturday, “She always referred to the children at the Cerebral Palsy Center as God’s Special Children.  I think for everything she did for children and for her community, my grandmother was God’s Special Child.”

The term legend has become an exaggerated cliché.  Doris Freeman as Cousin Tuny was not only a broadcasting legend but a legend among people.  She was truly one of a kind.  You would have liked being her “cuz.”