There are some people who were simply born to be television news anchors. I don’t know if I am one of them or not, but I know for a fact Gary Waddell was.
Gary’s name may not be familiar to you, but to the people of Southern Nevada, whether they have lived there for years or are new to the area, Gary Waddell is a trusted man.
For more than three decades, he has held the anchor chair at KLAS-HD in Las Vegas. That is saying something no matter what your profession, but it is especially saying something in the world of TV news, which can be fickle at best and cruel at worst. Gary has held his own for that long not because of luck but because of his amazing skills as a communicator.
I arrived at KLAS in the Summer of 2003. For a boy from the heart of Iowa, Las Vegas was a bit of a change to say the least. But what I quickly discovered was while most of Las Vegas was built on flash, KLAS was built on substance. And it was built on substance in large part because Gary Waddell was there.
I have a confession to make. I do not have much patience. I want to get things done well but done quickly. And early on in my time at KLAS, Gary would slow me down. He would ask me questions about my story. He would look through my scripts word by word and ask me to clarify or improve what I had written. It got under my skin terribly and he must have noticed one day because he looked at me and said “Brian, I just want you to be better”. From that moment on, he had me. Whatever Gary wanted me to do, I would do. No questions asked. I trusted him. And his work made me better, both as a reporter and as a news anchor.
But Gary Waddell is so much more than just a face on television. He is one of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met. And it is a good thing that I am typing this in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and not trying to say any of this to his face…because I am not sure I could get through it and I am not sure he would allow me to say it. He is gracious in his mannerisms and never thinks of himself as anything special or different. Well Gary, I hope you get to see this, because for the record…you are special and you are different.
Over time, Gary and I found we shared similar traits and backgrounds. We both started our careers in radio. We were both from the American heartland, I from Iowa and he from Nebraska. We both valued good, crisp writing and compelling storytelling. And as I was able to watch him work, I like to think some of what he did rubbed off on me. Though I know right now that I will never be as good as he is.
I always wanted to do good work while I was at KLAS. I have always worked under the philosophy that if people are good enough to spend some time watching you, you should give them something good to watch…something of quality. But while I always had the viewers interests in mind, I also became aware of something else: I never wanted my work to disappoint Gary. Or Paula Francis. Or Dave Courvoisier. Or anyone at KLAS.
The biggest cliché in the world is to say that the people at your workplace are like a family. But I am telling you, that is how it was when I worked at KLAS. And the head of that family was Gary Waddell. When he would compliment my work, it meant the world to me. And when he told me I fell short, while he would do it as gently as possible, it would eat away at me.
The reason I am writing about Gary tonight is that tomorrow, Friday, August 3rd, 2012….Gary will anchor his final newscasts on KLAS. He is planning to go into retirement. He has said that he finds the attention over his retirement embarrassing and that he simply just wanted to fade away into the past. That is something that could never happen. What Gary needs to know is that he has touched thousands of lives. Of course he has been a constant, steady hand for the people of Southern Nevada. But Gary needs to know as well, without any doubt, that he has also touched the lives of all the people he has worked with. He has made all of them better: anchors, reporters, producers, photographers…all of us. He taught without openly teaching. We learned from him without realizing it at the time. He contains a patience which all of us could use but few of us have.
Tomorrow, when Gary Waddell signs off for the final time, I will not be in Las Vegas. I will be in a newsroom at KSFY in Sioux Falls, working to prepare and anchor my own newscasts. But I can think of no better tribute to Gary than doing that; producing a newscast of quality…one that people can trust. But I will tell you that my heart will be in Las Vegas.
Gary Waddell, you are an amazing man. I am such a better person for having known you. Thank you so much for believing in me. You don’t know what it meant to me.