People used to say I "sounded" like Barbara Walters, which I thought absurd, of course. Barbara had such a distinctive voice that frankly grated on some – a cultivated "Eastern" accent – and more to the point, she was the preeminent woman in network news; while I was the new girl at the "Today" show, just in from somewhere in the Midwest, uncultivated and unknown.
Me, sound like Barbara Walters?
Guilty! I'd been innocently unaware, until half-listening to pre-show chatter from the "Today" control room early one morning, I snapped awake at the sound of her voice. "Why is Barbara Walters on the show?" I wondered, a little defensively, until realizing it was a taped playback of me.
Barbara loomed very large in my psyche when I was just starting out in the mid-'70s. My chair at the "Today" desk had been hers only weeks before. After the show, I retreated to my office – which likewise had been hers – and the phone on my desk, that had been her phone. In her hands it was magic. The powerful, the fallen, the heroes and villains – she could get anyone on that phone. For me, it mostly delivered a tuna fish sandwich for lunch.
But she left me far more than a chair, a desk and a phone. She left opportunity that hadn't existed before her.
And not just for me! Barbara Walters was a trailblazer for a whole generation of women broadcasters. She was a role model before most people even thought women needed one.
She arrived at "Today" in 1961, a writer-researcher dropped into a man's world. The women who appeared regularly were then known as "Today" Girls.
With drive, tenacity and talent, she quickly became the leading woman in broadcast journalism, though admittedly there was scant competition for the title.
That was then.
You know many of the women in this picture. Twenty-nine of us came together eight years ago, at Barbara's invitation, to mark her retirement.
We presented her legacy. And she made it clear how she wanted to be remembered: as having inspired other young women to go into this business and succeed. "They are my legacy," she told us. "The lasting impact is the women who have, I hope, followed in my footsteps."
That's what I've been thinking about, how all of us followed in Barbara Walters' footsteps, followed in them because she never relinquished the lead in 50 years.
Today they call such a person the GOAT… the Greatest Of All Time.
Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: David Bhagat.
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