"Tom Holden, Veteran WKBN News Anchor, Dies at 67"
"By Andrea WoodYOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Conversations stopped Sunday as word of Tom Holden's death spread across the Mahoning Valley. Radio stations broke into regular programming to announce the news, people stopped what they were doing to remember the man they had welcomed into their living rooms for more than 30 years, then waited with their families for 6 p.m. to arrive so they could grieve with Holden's colleagues at WKBN-TV.It was a passing as unique to the Mahoning Valley as Holden's longevity in the fickle TV news business. He was well liked, highly respected and forever the nice guy next door who just happened to do the news. "I've been working since I was 12 years old, setting pins at the bowling alley and caddying at the golf course. I may just decide it's time to hang it up," Holden said March 8, when it was announced that he would stop anchoring WKBN's 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. Instead, he would do the noon and 5 p.m. newscasts, he said. Then, when his contract expired in July, he would decide whether he would continue to work full-time or part-time.Holden suffered from emphysema -- which he requested not be reported. "To tell you the truth," he said in March, "sometimes I have trouble getting through a newscast. But don't put that in the paper."And so, Tom Holden -- the most recognized face in the Mahoning Valley -- kept his health problems private. As he blessed his successor at the anchor desk, Robb Schmidt, he managed the transition with dignity. There would be time to do an in-depth story about his life and broadcasting career, he promised, there would be time There wasn't.After Holden's final 11 p.m. newscast April 15, his health deteriorated. Complication after complication set in -- pneumonia, then a hearing loss attributed to antibiotics, then a viral infection that shut down his vital organs. When Holden died the evening of June 11 at Forum Health Northside Medical Center, surrounded by his sons and a dear friend and colleague, even those who knew the extent of his health problems were shocked."How can you be prepared for something like this?" asked Holden's co-anchor at 6 p.m., Sarah Eisler. "In the back of our minds, we knew he'd been sick, that he wasn't going to get better, but nobody wanted to entertain the notion very long. He was the patriarch of our family and we all loved him.""Tom embodied this town and what everybody came to expect from their news," Schmidt said. "He was a down-home guy who shot straight from his heart. He belonged to this community."Eisler and Schmidt were visibly shaken Sunday as they reported Holden's death on the 6 p.m. newscast. Gina Marinelli, Holden's co-anchor for more than 10 years, delivered his obituary. A video eulogy followed with tributes from local politicians, broadcast competitors and his co-workers, past and present. Among those recalling their experiences working with Holden were Jan Hopkins, who left WKBN some 25 years ago and became a business reporter for CNN, and Karen King, who began doing weather for WKBN about the time Hopkins moved on.WKBN's news director, Gary Coursen, recorded the interviews with Hopkins, King and other WKBN alumni two months ago during a reunion of station employees."I just had a feeling something like this might happen," Coursen said Sunday, "so I set up a camera in another room and asked them to reminisce about Tom." It fell to Coursen to coordinate the coverage of Holden's death, a sad task he began to organize last week as he took stock of the legendary anchorman's contribution to life in the Mahoning Valley."Tom was a touchstone to the generation of Youngstown residents who built this city," Coursen said. "He could put any news event in context and perspective, simply because he had seen it happen before. And I was always struck by how he never put himself above anyone else. He was just a regular guy, approachable and respectful."WKBN's coverage of Holden's death underscored his likeability with interviews from his golfing buddies and the gang at his hangout -- the Fireplace restaurant in Poland, and reaction from viewers.Pictures were shown from his boyhood, his time on the basketball court, in the military and his early days at WBBW radio -- where he first made his mark in local news. Also shown were excerpts from his last interview, with veteran WKBN reporter Ode Aduma. "Some people in our business," he observed, "they let their egos run away with them, unfortunately. But I've always tried to be the same person on the air as I am off the air."And he was, which is why his death hit so many so hard.Holden was born in Youngstown in 1938, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and received a bachelor of science in journalism from Kent State University. He joined WKBN in March 1972 as a reporter and sportscaster. He moved to the news anchor desk in 1974. "We estimate Tom anchored more than 15,000 newscasts, raising an entire generation of Valley news watchers on his no-nonsense brand of journalism," Marinelli said.Through the years some bigger-money job offers came Holden's way but he never wanted to leave Youngstown. "I'm a local yokel. I love this town, I love its people and its work ethic," he said at an Ad Club luncheon last July. Asked about complaints that TV news is too negative, too gory and too sensational, Holden said, "Sometimes we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't. In our business, sex, celebrity and crime sells -- and that's the bottom line."Holden -- always the straight shooter -- understood that viewers had a role in deciding what stories are covered. "There is a dark side to all of us, and I think we need to own up to that from time to time," he said.He leaves three sons: Sean, Kevin and Tom Jr. Calling hours will be Tuesday from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Rossi Funeral Home, Boardman. A funeral mass will be celebrated Wednesday morning in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Youngstown."
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