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For Beth's sake, make good news happen
Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Sat, 02/02/2008 - 5:57pm.
I still remember the first time I met Beth Younggren. I had been working at WCJB TV20 in Gainesville, FL, for about a month in the winter of 2002, when one Saturday afternoon, Beth returned from maternity leave and to the weekend anchor desk. She stuck her head into the edit bay where I was working and introduced herself. I turned around to see this tiny, bubbly woman full of energy, who I couldn't believe was just a couple months from having her second child.
For a while as I worked with Beth, we didn't get along very well. Our station was full of young, brash reporters who had the answer to everything. I was one of them. Beth, on the other hand, was 10 years older than most of us and had a lot more experience. She had this way of infuriating us young guns by questioning how we'd put our story together. "Who does she think she is?" we'd often rant behind her back. But in the end, whether it was a couple hours, a few days or even weeks later, we'd realize she was right in how she questioned us. And she made us better for it.
Over time, I got to know Beth better and wound up liking and respecting her very much. That respect is even greater now that I look at where I am in my career and better understand what she was trying to do for the younger reporters. But unlike me and just about everyone else I've ever worked with, Beth never seemed to let frustrations, negative attitudes or anything else get to her. Sure, sometimes a looming deadline or a malfunctioning piece of equipment would get her to momentarily lose her cool. But more often than not, she had a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone she met. That's just who she was
Beth's positive attitude and effusive personality were particularly evident in early 2003. Management decided it wanted to make some changes, having Beth cover schools as part of our Education Team and replacing her on the weekends with a younger, less experienced woman. Few of us in the newsroom agreed with the decision, and we all felt badly for Beth, who we knew had to be hurt by the move. But in classic Beth fashion, she never let any hurt she may have been feeling show. On her last Sunday anchoring the news, she told viewers she was excited about the change. "I'll be home for a few more bedtime stories for my kids," she said. And then she ended the newscast as she did each night telling viewers, "Make good news happen."
At first glance, Beth's show-ending catch phrase was as corny as her native Iowa. But if you knew her, you knew how genuine it was. She truly believed there was good in every person. And it was her way of trying to bring it out of everyone who watched her newscasts.
As a fellow member of the TV20 Education Team, I got to know Beth even better as we shared story ideas and discussed issues facing the schools. Beth was quiet and reserved, but she was occassionally good for a quick gem, like the time I told her the school district was looking for a new PR person, which would pay far more than we made and would give her even more time with her family. It seemed like a perfect job. "I don't know," Beth shrugged. "I'm not sure I'm ready to go over to the darkside." It's an adjective I always think of when fellow journalists look at PR jobs. Or there was the time Beth asked me to come look at the interview she had shot of a friend of hers. The woman on the tape was very attractive and about my age, and Beth wanted to fix me up with her. "She does have some baggage, though," Beth told me once she'd piqued my interest. "She got divorced last year and has a two-year-old." Beth was always very honest. Then there was the time we had a going away party one night for a coworker. Beth showed up with her daughter. Noticing how surprised we all were to see a four-year-old at a party with a bunch of beer-swigging 20-somethings, Beth explained: "Well, I couldn't miss Jeff's party, but Wednesday is girls night out in our family!" Or when I'd lost a lot of weight, every so often if I was standing or walking in front of her, she'd tell me, "Geez, Kevin. You never had much of a butt to begin with. But now there's nothing." When I'd jokingly tell her I was going to report her for harrassment, she just gave me an impish grin, as if to say, "Yeah. Good luck with that."
In January 2004, I left TV20 for a new job in Kentucky. One day a few months after my move, much to my surprise and delight, I got an e-mail from Beth just checking to see how I was doing. Every now and then we'd write each other. Once she told me how her son Ben, just a toddler when I left, was now big enough to have somehow managed to get his bicycle on the roof of her house; the same roof, she pointed out, where she once let me sit during a newscast to do a live shot about home fire safety. After several months away from Florida, Beth told me she was no longer working at TV20 full time. Instead, she was just working one day a week, and she loved it. It gave her more time with her kids and let her get more involved at church.
After a while, though, the e-mails stopped from both of us. Back in the spring, though, I received a message that gave me great pause. It was from another former co-worker, letting a bunch of TV20 alums know that Beth was undergoing chemo for a brain tumor. More updates meant more bad news. The tumor was slowly robbing her vision and her ability to speak. Nothing the doctors tried apparently made any improvement.
Two weeks ago, friends and family gathered at the church Beth and her family attended in Gainesville to celebrate Beth's 40th birthday, with the theme Pay it Forward, Beth's personal motto. Last weekend I saw my friends Joel and Patrick who still live in North Central Florida and were able to attend. Joel told me Beth was so sick, she was not able to attend and that the prognosis was that she only had days to live.
Then Patrick, not known for profound statements, said something interesting. "It sucked how Beth was kinda pushed out at TV20," he said. "But do you think it happened for a reason? Think about it: It gave her more time to be with her kids and do what she wanted to do. And she got to do it before she got sick. It just seems like it was meant to be."
Yesterday, I received another e-mail. It was the news we'd all been dreading: Beth had finally succumbed to the tumor. In the last day, there have been tributes, words of condolences and shared memories, including this blog. Most of all, though, I think we're all trying to make sense of it. Why take away someone so good so early? Why leave two young children without their mother and a husband without his wife. But maybe Patrick was right. Maybe it was meant to be. I'd hope so. I'd like to think that Beth's death is her final lesson to all of us brazen upstarts she had to put up with at TV20 and all those viewers who tuned in each Saturday and Sunday. I'd like to think that it's her reminder to take the opportunity while we can, before it's too late, to do what she always did: Make good news happen.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo