Friends, family reflect on life, legacy of former WCBI News Director
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Long-time north Mississippi journalist and former WCBI News Director Robert Davidson passed away Sunday.
He oversaw some of the largest stories to impact the region for 25 years.
His greater impact may have been on the people who told those stories. Robert was more of a behind-the-scenes guy.
He was a father and husband, a role he took on with great pride.
Robert lived a mere 59 years, but it was filled with stories, laughs, a quick wit, and plenty of hard work.
Here is an attempt to capture all of this larger-than-life man, many called their TV dad.
If Robert could be anywhere, it’d probably be in a seat watching over Swayze Field. He saw many games there as a former Ole Miss baseball player and cameraman for ESPN. Being near the baseball diamond was a passion, but so was telling and finding news stories. That fiery passion allowed him to inspire young journalists or sent them looking for a new career.
“If there’s a news director that you want to have your back from the time you start to, for your life, really, that was Robert. Robert was such a compassionate guy, such a supportive figure in my life. Even after I left Columbus, Mississippi,” said Caresse Jackman, former WCBI reporter.
“I went to Tupelo High. He went to Tupelo High. I was a couple years ahead of him, but Robert, I remembered him because Robert was a pretty good athlete in school,” said Wayne Hereford, WTVA Assignment Editor.
His country twang kept him working behind the scenes often saying, “You sure as hell don’t want me reading the news,” and digging for information as a producer, photographer, and eventually news director.
“He was firm, but fair and a very smart, very intelligent, and very savvy news person,” said Hereford.
“He said, ‘I could spot your potential. I could spot your talent. I just don’t like divas.’ And I said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m not a diva, so we’re good to go.’ And instantly after that, I started there at WCBI in Columbus, and I was there for about two and a half years,” said Jackman.
“Robert was maybe one of the best news directors we’ve had here at WTVA over the years and a very good gentleman. I mean a funny guy, but when news became serious, he became serious,” said John Dolusic, WTVA Meteorologist.
Robert was in that role at WTVA for seven years and then moved on to Jackson, Tennessee before coming to WCBI, guiding newsrooms from tape to digital and more hours of news than we ever imagined.
“There are so many journalists, news anchors, reporters, sports reporters, whoever, that have gone through your doors that can safely say they wouldn’t be where they are right now without you,” said Robby Donoho, former WCBI sports anchor.
He had a knack for connecting with people, with a down-to-earth demeanor and an understanding of the people around him. You also never really had to ask what was on his mind. He’d tell you. Aside from his coworkers, his best of friends had four legs and would make loud visits to the newsroom.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t like big dogs and Robert had two really big dogs, two Great Danes. He decided to bring them to work one day. He had them locked in the office during the newscast, during my newscast that I was anchoring, and somehow the dogs got out of his office and made their way into the studio while I was live on the air. And just as I was about to toss to weather, in walked these very large dogs, and it was all over my face,” said Aundrea Self, WCBI Anchor and Managing Editor.
Some have described Robert as a tough old goat. He was stubborn and bound to do things his way, but he knew how to make you feel loved with little connections on life or work or by telling one of his wild college party day stories. His mind was always thinking of complex issues, how to mentor people, or how Ole Miss could finally win a football national championship.
But that toughness is what got him through being diagnosed with a lung disease in 2012 which eventually led to a lung transplant. Robert, even in retirement and from his hospital bed, would send notes to us about stories or even the dreaded, misspelled word.
“He was a friend when he needed to be a friend for us, and he was so understanding of things that were going on in our personal lives. He remained that to me, even after he retired. He continued to give me advice. My daughter has kind of grown up in this newsroom, so he’s known her since she was very small. So he’s always encouraged me to balance very carefully work and life so that I did not miss out on any of her moments. He was so, so kind to be flexible to allow me to do those things. And he often would text me during the newscast if there was a misspelling or if there was something he thought we could have written better or some video we could have gotten better. So he remained our boss, even when he was no longer technically in the building,” said Self.
“To do what we do, there are a lot of people that you see on the air, Dennis Hudson, Terry Smith, Bryan Owings, Dick Rice, but for all those folks that you see on the air, there are a lot of people behind the scenes who have to do a lot in order to do what we do every day. And Robert Davidson was one of those folks who most folks may not know, but he was invaluable. He was one of the North Stars when it comes to broadcast journalism in northeast Mississippi,” said Craig Ford, WTVA Anchor/Assistant News Director.
He could outwork anyone in the newsroom looking for a story. That’s why he was recently given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters. Our mentors showed us how to ask tough questions, how to be tough, how to live, how to make an impact, and how to keep a mischievous sense of humor.
“I used to, years ago whenever we’d get new employees to the TV station here, I’d always try to figure out a way to get Robert to tell a story for one of them because Robert was a great storyteller. He was funny too. I’ve been blessed to work with some great managers in my career, but Robert was one of those managers I would run through a wall for him,” said Ford.
“He fought for a long time, and it just shows once again his strength,” said Jackman.
“You could go in and talk to the guy on a personal level. It’s almost like he was your friend. I don’t know. It’s a balancing act that only he could pull off, but he pulled it off real well,” said Hereford.
Now he has the best seats to watch his Rebels play or find the latest lawsuit on Pacer or enjoy a glass of bourbon or go to a Def Leppard concert. Rock on Boss.
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