So says Carol LeBeau, who retired in 2009 after 28 years on the first and longest-running female news anchor team in the country. LeBeau anchored at San Diego’s KGTV and was best known for covering medical breakthroughs and other health issues in her “Staying Healthy” reports.
LeBeau will speak at a special women’s dessert event at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, 7715 Draper Ave., on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. about how she “kept mentally and spiritually afloat” throughout her fast-paced career, during which she toured with the Pope, jogged with former President Bill Clinton, interviewed Oprah, traveled to India to cover the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and collected several awards along the way.
When LeBeau first started working for a radio and television station in her hometown of Davenport, Iowa, “women were just breaking into the industry locally,” she said. “It was a challenge to prove myself. I tried to have a good attitude and not think I was going to change the world overnight.”
After reading the news on radio, LeBeau got her big break when the one woman in the newsroom moved to another market.
“I was dumped rather unceremoniously onto the TV side,” LeBeau said. “I tried to do the best job I could every day and over time I started getting asked to cover bigger stories and fill in on the morning anchor desk.”
When she started at KGTV in 1981, LeBeau was required to wear the standard-issue men’s polyester jackets to match the other anchors — who were, not surprisingly, male.
“They didn’t always trust me with the big stories because I was new and I was a woman,” she said. “But many of the men who were toughest on me ultimately became my biggest cheerleaders. Those guys taught me the business and for that, I am grateful.”
Although LeBeau admits there is “a nugget of truth” to newsroom sexism à la the movie “Anchorman,” she brushes off her initial encounters with gender disparity in the workplace.
“I wouldn’t waste a lot of time talking about women in this field,” she said. “Today, the media is mostly comprised of women. And I would give them the same advice I would give a man: be professional and prepared, be willing to learn and never take criticism personally. Check the gender card at the door.”
Though it took two decades, LeBeau achieved equal pay and parity with her male colleagues.
“In this post-feminist era, we can’t forget everything that has been accomplished,” LeBeau said. “There are still some gender issues in other fields, but not in broadcast journalism.”
Throughout her career, LeBeau encountered obstacles in her personal life that challenged her more than professional hurdles. When she was 26, her mother committed suicide after battling depression for most of her adult life. LeBeau turned to spirituality for understanding.
“Everybody in life has a few roadblocks along the way,” she said. “My spiritual journey began when I lost my mother. I made a commitment to the Christian faith, and that really became my foundation for dealing with life.”
In the late 1980s, LeBeau began to show symptoms of depression as well.
“Fortunately by that time, there were treatments available,” she said. “In my mother’s generation, it wasn’t talked about.”
LeBeau’s personal experiences with mental illness gave her fresh inspiration for shedding light on health-related issues.
“News is so often murder and mayhem,” she said. “It was wonderful to feel like I was bringing people information that could improve or even save their lives. I felt like I was helping to make people be aware and able to ask the right questions.”
Despite having officially retired from broadcasting, LeBeau remains active as a spokeswoman and advocate for Palomar Pomerado Health. She also continues to work as a freelance health reporter and a motivational speaker for women and faith-based groups.
In her scarce free time, LeBeau competes in rough-water swims throughout the western United States and often swims at La Jolla Cove.
“It’s absolutely the most wonderful swimming spot in the world,” she said.
LeBeau lives in Coronado with her husband, Tom Hamilton, a retired Navy pilot, and their cat, Little Girl.
Tickets to the dessert are $10 and can be reserved by calling (858) 729-5524.