NEW ORLEANS (WWL-TV) - After 40 years as one of southeast Louisiana’s most beloved and respected television journalists, WWL-TV morning news anchor Sally-Ann Roberts announced Wednesday she will retire from Eyewitness News at the end of February.
“I appreciate the time that I spent here, the friends that I made, and this wonderful community,” she said. “After much thought and prayer, I decided that it’s time to begin a new chapter in my life. I don’t know what the future holds but I look forward to continuing to serve this community in the years to come and spend more time with my grandchildren.” Roberts will anchor her last newscast on Feb. 28.
For more than 40 years, Roberts has worked to communicate positive stories to south Louisiana television viewers, while also doing what she can to strengthen and inspire her audience – in ways both on-air and off. That includes finding the good in almost any story or interview she does, co-founding a mentorship program and serving as a highly sought-after motivational speaker and author. In the process, she has also become one of the most popular and recognizable faces on local television, as the beloved co-anchor of Channel 4’s Eyewitness Morning News and a valued member of the top news reporting staff in New Orleans.
“When you hear the name Sally-Ann, it represents all that is good about mornings in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana,” said WWL-TV President and General Manager Tod Smith. “She has reached that rare status of being an icon.”
Roberts joined the staff of WWL-TV on March 31, 1977, the same week as her morning co-anchor, Eric Paulsen. As a City Hall reporter, she covered city government during the administrations of Moon Landrieu, Ernest “Dutch” Morial and Sidney Barthelemy. In 1988, she was a lead reporter on Channel 4’s breaking news coverage of the Cabildo fire. In 1998, she was part of the reporting team that earned WWL-TV the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award for breaking news. She has played a key role in coverage of virtually every hurricane, election, special event and Mardi Gras celebration during her 40 years at the station.
For more than 25 years, she and Paulsen have co-anchored the popular Eyewitness Morning News, building a bond with each other nearly as strong as the bond they have with their viewers, who made the newscast one of the highest-rated morning newscasts in the country. Over the years, in addition to mornings, Roberts has anchored nearly every newscast on Channel 4, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and weekends.
Certainly, her most cherished accomplishment occurred in the fall of 2012 when she donated her bone marrow to her sister Robin Roberts, the ABC News “Good Morning America” co-anchor who was suffering from a life-threatening disease called MDS. Throughout the process, Sally-Ann and Robin made a conscious decision to use their personal story to highlight the need for more bone marrow donors, through the “Be the Match” campaign. Both appeared in news stories (on WWL-TV and nationally), produced public service announcements and made public appearances at local donor recruitment drives. Their story triggered an outpouring of support from across the nation. In the months following the initial appeal, more than 44,000 people joined the Be The Match Registry. In 2012 and 2013, Sally-Ann and WWL-TV produced stories each month highlighting local donors and donor success stories. The station organized a phone bank during the morning news, to take viewer questions about the bone marrow and organ donor process, and sign up donors; and several public events were organized to recruit donors. The donor rolls locally grew by thousands of people as a result of the coverage. Both sisters also encouraged donors by speaking at conferences ranging from the National Conference of Be The Match in Minneapolis to the STEM Cell Conference at The Vatican.
That personal story which put her family (which also includes a sister, Dorothy, and brother, Butch) in the headlines was just one of thousands Sally-Ann Roberts has reported on over the years. While she has covered the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina (which claimed her home and most of her personal belongings) as well as countless other disasters, crimes and controversies, true to her character, she says she most enjoys reporting good news. For more than 10 years, she produced reports on “Quiet Heroes,” volunteers in the community who are helping others. Her Quiet Hero reports took on added poignancy after Katrina. Her subjects included a teenager who used his Boy Scout skills to save his family as flood waters engulfed their home and men who rescued their neighbors sweltering attics or clinging to street signs. Then there were the many stories of rebuilding in which volunteers locally and from around the world worked to restore homes and lives.
In 1994, Roberts and her friend Cathy Harris co-founded the mentorship organization, Each One Save One. Over the years, the non-profit organization has recruited, screened, trained and placed hundreds of mentors in schools and organizations across the metro area.
For her work in the community, Roberts has received countless awards and recognition over the years, including from the Young Leadership Council, Urban League, YWCA, Junior League, Toastmasters International, Kiwanis International, The Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge, New Orleans Black Social Workers, The Children's Defense Fund and The New Orleans Conference for Community and Justice (formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews.)
Professionally, she has earned lifetime achievement honors from the Press Club of New Orleans and the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, and was part of the team which was honored with the Edward R. Murrow, George Foster Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards for coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
For nearly two decades on Channel 4 in the 1990s and early 2000s, Roberts also hosted a Saturday morning talk show for teenagers, "Our Generation.” Once again, she used this on-air platform to highlight the positive work of local young people, giving them a voice for their concerns and also spotlight the good work being done by student journalists, actors, musicians and athletes. Young people who appeared on that program are now working around the country as journalists, educators, engineers and other professions. Roberts is happy to say she knew them "when” and it is another example of her “paying it forward,” by inspiring the next generation.
As an Air Force "brat," Roberts traveled extensively as a child. She was born in Chandler, Arizona to Lucimarian and Colonel Lawrence Roberts, a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. She spent her childhood on the move, living in many cities throughout the country including abroad in Izmir, Turkey. When she was a junior in high school, her family settled in Biloxi, Mississippi at Keesler Air Force Base. She graduated from Biloxi High School and then attended the University of Southern Mississippi where she received both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Aside from her career in the media, she is often in high demand as a motivational speaker across the country. Her audiences range from faith-based organizations to the corporate world including VITAS (National Black Nursing Association).
After being a widow for five years, Roberts married Ron Nabonne in 2007. She is the proud mother of three children and grandmother of four.
She is the author of three books: Going Live...An Anchorwoman Reports Good News, the novel Angelvision and the inspirational book, Your Power Is On, with photography by Eric Paulsen. All three books are published by Pelican Publishing.
A passage from her most recent book helps illustrate the way that her friends and colleagues feel she uses the power of words and communication to help others. “On days where dark clouds hang low and ominous, where life’s stresses and woes seem like an unending downpour, like nothing but dread looms on the horizon, sometimes all it takes is a kind thought and word to light the way through the gloom.” For more than 40 years, while often covering the gloom and ominous stories that can make up the news business, Roberts has been a beacon of light and hope to her viewers and co-workers.
“Certainly we’ll miss her, but we are all the better for having had the chance to know her, work with her and most of all, be inspired by her,” Smith said.
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