Irwin’s influence in Blount still felt by co-workers, public
By Linda Albert | (email@example.com)
Helen Thomas, that gritty, outspoken journalist noted for asking hard questions of presidents, died July 20. She was a member of the White House Press Corps and later an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers, was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and the first female member of the Gridiron Club. Thomas, born in 1920, likely inspired many other women to follow in her footsteps in journalism.
I and many others who live in Blount County were privileged to know another such reporter, the late Anna Coltharp Irwin, whose career at The Daily Times ended with her death in 2007. Anna was a strong woman, exceptional journalist and mentor to numbers of other journalists throughout the years. She reported the news accurately, fairly and with compassion, leaving her own opinions out of print. She had some strong opinions, mind you — and she was not afraid to share them, at times at the top of her lungs in the confines of the newsroom.
Anna was a petite lady, always dressed beautifully, hair in place, makeup on, nails done. She covered the hard news and was also in charge of the photography department. She was as tenacious as a bulldog and had the innate ability to present her stories factually and with finesse. She won journalism award after journalism award, to the point where she had no more room in her home to display them. She had offers to go to other, larger newspapers, but she told me one time that she was staying right here in Blount County. We are the better because of that decision.
I posted about Anna on my Facebook page recently, talking about what she meant to me and a number of others, men and women, alike, both personally and professionally. Following are some of the comments:
“Anna and I belonged to a ‘girls’ night out’ where several of us would get together for dinner once a month and talk openly about current events. It was one of those ‘what’s said at the table stays at the table.’ I still miss her often humorous outlook on events in Blount County. She was my husband’s adopted mom and we both loved her dearly and still miss her to this day. But, she was a true reporter. No matter what her opinion was, her reporting was always unbiased and I always admired that about her.” — Marion Westerling.
“I think one of the greatest memories I have of her is going toe to toe with a 6-foot, 200-plus-pound officer to get her information (which this didn’t happen often cause they all respected her so much). Whatever she said, I think, almost made him cry — all I heard from the conversation was “Yes ma’am, Mrs. Anna, I’ll have that to you in a minute.’ It was probably something like ‘Don’t make me call your parents!’ I will always have that visual in my head!” — Joy Kimbrough, Daily Times photographer.
“I remember Anna as a very kind and compassionate woman. When our daughter, Lindsay Michelle Woodall, died 1-8-1980, Anna interviewed me about her short but influential life and her congenital heart defects. I loved the article and I knew that Anna cared.” — Deborah Duggan Woodall Rhea.
“Anna was an amazing person and an amazing journalist. Greatly missed. She was a national treasure, right here locally.” — Jennifer Spirko, former copy editor at The Daily Times.
I think Joy summed up best what Anna’s coworkers at The Daily Times feel: “I miss her every day, I miss our little talks in the afternoon when she would have the time. But I’m honored to say I learned from the best and knowing her made me a better person. I’ll admit when the back door opens in the newsroom, I still look for her to walk in. Miss her so much!”
Linda Albert is Sunday Life editor and a staff writer for The Daily Times. Her column runs every Sunday in the Life section. You may contact her at 981-1168 or (firstname.lastname@example.org)