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News anchor has dream job and stormy memories
In New Orleans, news anchors seem to function as journalists, community advocates and public figures all in one, and that was especially true for WDSU’s Camille Whitworth when she covered Hurricane Katrina nearly 10 years ago. The event is fresh in her mind as her station prepares coverage for the big anniversary, which is being branded as “Katrina 10,” and also because of a memento she keeps framed on her desk: a crumpled piece of notepad paper from when she reported live from Baton Rouge’s River Center after the storm, where she also helped to unite separated families through broadcasts. The paper is from man who was looking for his 77-year-old missing mother, whom Whitworth wasn’t able to help find. For the anniversary, she wants to track down that man and see if he ever found his mother.
Whitworth also is going through a personal storm, as she’s still dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s unexpected death this past year. I met her at the Howard Avenue station after a long day to talk about Katrina, her family and her childhood.
Q: What are some of your memories covering the storm?
During Katrina my assignment was to hang out in Ochsner. We could go live from there, but once the storm hit everything was wiped out, so we were locked in the hospital. And they said if you leave this hospital, you’re not allowed to come back, because at that time they were saying there was martial law, rioting, all this stuff. We were afraid to leave the hospital for fear of what was out there. We were gonna get hurt, killed? We didn’t know. We stayed in the hospital, and the things we saw were amazing. The way that hospital organized, rallied the troops, helped the patients. When Katrina hit, I say it was my alarm clock, 2:30 in the morning. That glass atrium in the big Ochsner on Jefferson Highway crumbled, and all the family members were sleeping down there. All these people just went running through the hospital. That’s how I found my doctor, during the storm. So 10 years later whenever I go to Ochsner and see that atrium, it gives me chill bumps and literally draws tears to my eyes because I’ll never forget that that’s where I was when the most devastating thing happened to this region.
Q: Was that always your dream to be an anchor?
I’ve wanted to be an anchor since I was tiny. My family owns the New Orleans Tribune newspaper. That’s my mom’s side [the McKenna family]. On my dad’s side they own the Roanoke Tribute in Virginia. So I always grew up in media, in reporting, in publishing, in writing. As little girls we were never allowed to say, “We went to summer camp and it was great.” They made us write essays.
Q: How do you like to relax with your free time?
Relax? (Laughs) I guess I like to veg out and watch senseless TV. Get lost in a book. Honestly it’s been a very tough time for me in the last six months with my mother’s death … in terms of downtime it’s just one of those things where we’re getting her estate together. It’s really taking a toll because it was unexpected. I leave here, and then I go to make sure insurance is taken care of, bank accounts are closed out. That’s been a real heavy load on my plate for the last six months.
We lived two doors down from each other. She was 67, young. When that happens, your whole life changes. I had someone tell me that when your mother dies, your tears will taste different. Your pain comes from a different source; it’s a deep, guttural, horrible sort of pain. But it also drives me. My mother was very supportive of my career. She was my No. 1 fan. She would always come up with bright ideas for things for me to do or say on the air. If I ever got tired or weary, she was my source of strength. With that I have to continue.
My mother would always come up with stuff, and she would call and say, “You need to do a story on this.” But she would also go to crime scenes and say, “How come you guys aren’t out here? There’s cop cars out here,” and I’d say, “Mom, get away from the crime scene!”
Age: “I’m a Pisces.”
Born/raised: Houston/New Orleans
Education: Hampton University for undergrad; graduate studies at Indiana University-Purdue University
Favorite movie: “Steel Magnolias if I want a good cry. Good Will Hunting if I’m channeling my intellectual side and My Best Friend’s wedding if I need a good laugh.”
Favorite TV show: “The Royals” Favorite hobby: oil painting, tennis
Favorite restaurant: Cafe Amelie and anything John Besh
Favorite food: My Aunt Beverly’s seafood gumbo and anything chocolate for dessert
Favorite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Favorite vacation spot: “Any beach, anytime, anywhere”
True confession My guilty pleasure is reality TV.