Alveta Ewell announces her retirement from WAVY-TV
It was one of our first discussions. We reported a story involving a child–the details of which matter little five years later. I wrote a line that described his disability in a way which drew a piercing look from my new co-anchor. During the commercial break which followed, she politely took issue with the term, “autistic” in reference to the boy’s disability.
“Did you write that?” she asked.
“Yes.” I answered, slightly annoyed, with a dash of defensiveness in anticipating a bigger discussion that could only last for the next ninety seconds.
“Autistic–that’s not right!”
Now we hear the camera operator/floor director, “ONE MINUTE.”
“What do you mean? He has autism!”
“That’s right,” nodding with a wide smile, as if a teacher senses her student is starting to finally get it.
Before I could answer, she looked to the bright studio lights carefully searching for the words to make that gentle “correction.”
“When you say someone is autistic. you’re letting the disability define the person. It’s better to say, he ‘has autism’ because that is only a small part of who he is.”
We came back to a ”two shot” as I was nodding slightly. My brain then shifted to the next story, as my co-anchor smiled as if to say, “now you understand.”
That is Alveta Ewell.
She makes her point in a kind manner, but don’t mistake the softly spoken words for a lack of passion. Alveta has compassion for the underdog, and while most of us shake our heads over a man convicted of murder, and speak of the family he wronged, Alveta will also think of others burdened by a criminal’s choices. After one particularly violent case, she once said to me in a solemn tone, “Just imagine what his (the killer’s) mother must be going through.”
Alveta Ewell shares a lighter moment with Nicole Livas on the set
Maybe it’s her ability to see beneath various racial, political, and religious backgrounds which define mere segments of who we really are. On the day Andy Griffith passed away, the newsroom was full of stories about Griffith’s life on the Outer Banks, his immense talent as a storyteller, and his underrated ability as a dramatic actor. Alveta and I settled into a discussion about the iconic land of Mayberry, and its idealized vision of a small rural American town in the 1960′s. I asked about her impressions of that show growing up, and its portrayal of a friendly, unarmed sheriff in North Carolina during the often violent struggle for equality faced by blacks in the south during the Civil Rights era. The answer was classic Alveta Ewell.
“The Andy Griffith Show wasn’t about black or white. We saw it as just people. They went through situations and learned lessons all of us could relate to. It didn’t matter that the show didn’t have black characters. Nobody did then. That show was about humanity–not white people or black people”
Leave it to Alveta to find a common thread with which to include everyone. She doesn’t view the world in black, white and other labels we attach to people as defined by skin color or ethnic background. Some traits run through all of “humanity,” and Alveta sees the world through that prism. That quality made her a special member of the WAVY family. I’ll miss her compassionate storytelling, and monster smile that always made the WAVY newsroom a brighter place.
When she announced her decision to leave WAVY after nearly 25 years, we shared a few tears, and I told her that I will be forever grateful for her kindness during my first years in a new place. Alveta’s acceptance of me helped me connect with many of you. It’s how kindness works; it spreads through example–one which we see everyday at WAVY through the humanity of Alveta Ewell.