‘We’ve set a standard’: Vanessa Echols calls on the next generation to ‘rise to the occasion’

ORLANDO, Fla. — Channel 9 anchor Vanessa Echols will retire Friday after 30 years at WFTV Channel 9.


Channel 9 anchor Daralene Jones sat down with Echols as she reflected on her 40-year career in broadcast journalism.

“I am -- we call it GRITS, girls raised in the South,” Echols said.

Echols was born and raised in Auburn, Alabama, home to her alma mater’s rival.

The small community was in the middle of a segregated South at the time. The village that surrounded her shaped her rearing.

Watch: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer surprises Vanessa Echols with city proclamation ahead of her retirement

“I think it was growing up in a community where people had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement,” Echols said. “They told us about the struggles that they had gone through and kind of gave us this charge of it’s up to you now to carry on the mission to fulfill why we did what we did.”

Her mission was to land a job in journalism, and she did so with stops in Tennessee and Georgia before she received a phone call from Channel 9′s news director at the time.

“Chris Schmidt called me and said, ‘Hey, you want to come in for an interview? I was like, ‘OK, why not? It’s Florida. OK.’ And here we are, 30 years later,” Echols said.

Jones said, “What has this been like for you? Has it been fun, exhilarating, frustrating?”

Read: ‘I’ve been blessed’: Channel 9′s Vanessa Echols announces her retirement after 40 years in news

“It’s been everything that you just said -- it’s been fun; it’s been adventurous; it’s been exhilarating; it’s been frustrating; sometimes it’s been very disappointing,” Echols said, referring to the emotions she felt about the stories that did not have positive outcomes.

Echols said there was one person who inspired her to pursue a career in journalism.

“I still remember the first time that I saw a Black woman anchoring the local newscast that I watched growing up, and (I) have been totally obsessed with her since I was probably -- I don’t know -- 10 years old,” she said. “So I think that, for me, it was I hope I am to some other little girl watching what she was to me.”

Echols offered this advice for anyone who wishes to succeed in his or her career, irrespective of the field:

Watch: Vanessa Echols hosts ‘Getting Real about Central Florida’s Black history’

“You’re not here to play. Those of us who came before you didn’t work this hard, get to this point, so that you could just kind of waltz in here and act like this is afternoon tea time. It’s not. We’re here to work. We’ve set a standard, and you need to rise to the occasion. Do the work that we’ve done and then do better than we did. So I think now that I look back on that, that’s why I’m traveling light. Because I feel like, OK, I’ve done that. Hopefully you all got the message. Now it’s up to you carry that on. And I feel like because I know that this is the time, the time is right for this.”

Echols said she retires without any regrets -- that whatever she was unable to accomplish during her career just wasn’t meant for her.

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2014. He serves as the station's Digital Executive Producer.