DENVER (CBS4) – Nearly 40 years after joining the news team at CBS, Kathy Walsh is retiring.
The award-winning reporter for CBS4 who serves as the TV station’s weekend anchor and Health Specialist shared a look back at her incredible career in an interview with CBSDenver.com.
Do you remember your first assignment as a reporter at KCNC-TV?
I try not to. It was a meth lab bust in Arapahoe County. I knew nothing about methamphetamine. I did a very rough live shot with the sheriff. I remember anchor Bill Stuart reminding me, years later, about my less-than-stellar debut. What are friends for?
Did you know from the start that this was going to be the TV station that you’d end up working at for the rest of your career?
I knew it would be my last. I’d worked in Bangor, Nashville and Detroit. My plan was to pick a place where I’d like to live and give TV news one last shot. If it didn’t work out, I’d try something else. I’ve lasted 36 years, 5 months and 10 days at CBS4 Denver. I guess it worked out.
What is most striking to you about how Denver and Colorado has changed since those early years?
When I moved to Denver it had the reputation of being a sleepy “Cowtown.” It seems like overnight it became a major urban market. For years, construction cranes were the new state bird. By 2019, Denver had the best large airport and was being touted as a terrific place to live. I bought my first house for $95,000. The estimate now on Zillow is $693,153. I know that’s happening across the country, but it’s still shocking to me.
What has kept you working in Colorado and not choosing to relocate to some other area of the country?
Everything! The city, the suburbs, the sun, the snow, the parks, the mountains … despite the traffic (now back to the way it was pre-COVID) I love the quality of life here and, most importantly, the people (trite but true). Many years ago, my sister came to visit. We went in shop after shop and were greeted warmly. She asked me how everybody knew me. I laughed and told her they didn’t … that’s just Denver. It’s a great place to raise a family. Our daughters are now living in other parts of the country, but they always talk about coming back. Our nephew, who came to live with us from New Jersey when he was 10, just graduated from CSU and doesn’t want to leave Colorado. Also, no job is perfect, but working at CBS4 has been an honor. Over the years, I have been proud of the enterprise, the storytelling, the professionalism and the people.
Health reports are one of your specialties, and that sometimes means interviewing patients and family members who are going through extremely difficult struggles. What approach do you take when you conduct those interviews?
I’ve always taken the compassionate approach. I’ve dealt with difficult times, myself. I try to make patients and family members comfortable. I give them the option of not answering a question. I let them know they can trust me. I want them to feel good about sharing what happened. My reward is the “thank you” text that I often get after the story airs. That’s when I know I’ve done a good job.
You’ve interviewed countless doctors and researchers in the Denver area. What is your impression of the people who choose to work in the medical community here?
I am often in awe of the medical expertise we have in Colorado. People come from all over the country and the world to work with the professionals here. We have many researchers at the forefront of cancer treatments and so much more. I’ve seen the amazing work of surgeons who reconstructed the face of a man attacked by a bear, even regrowing his nose that the animal ripped off. I’ve talked with cancer patients defying the odds because of doctors here. I learned all about the complex operation that finally eased the suffering of one of the Columbine survivors. There have been countless incredible stories.
What has reporting on health matters during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic been like?
Every journalist has become a health reporter during the pandemic. It’s been nonstop and ever changing. I have stayed patient-centric for the most part, telling COVID stories with the people most affected. I was privileged to follow Dr. Michael Leonard, one of Colorado’s first COVID patients, who spent 35 days on a ventilator. He was the first in the state to be treated with convalescent plasma. He shared his struggles and how the experience has changed him.
You have been on the anchor desk for some of the biggest stories in Colorado history. How do you stay balanced when informing viewers about breaking news?
I relay only the information I have and stay away from speculation. I repeat it so viewers just tuning in have the latest facts. I anchored 9 hours of coverage of the George Floyd protests in Denver, both on CBS4 and CBSN Denver. I depended heavily on the excellent reporters at the scene.
Are there any specific news stories that stick out when you think back to all the reporting you’ve done in Colorado?
The Columbine massacre is etched in my memory. I was one of the first reporters on scene, ending up where many of the wounded students gathered. I saw panic and hysteria and we had very little information. Parents rushed to the area to find their children. I will never forget the father who jumped a fence to cradle and rock his teenage son who was hurt and in shock. It was heartbreaking.
A lot of viewers are probably not aware of how popular you are in the CBS4 newsroom with your coworkers. Editors, producers, directors, photographers, fellow reporters, you name it… You’ve been known to give the weekend staff a boost by handing out gifts, and if a coworker brings in their kids you’ve always got a candy jar for them to dive into. Where did the inspiration for all of that come from?
My daughter, Erin, tells me I show my love by giving gifts. I’ve done it for my family and friends for years. I consider the CBS4 “Weekend Warriors” my family. We do our best with a very small crew and without any bosses watching. We look out for one another. The world of TV news can be frantic and stressful. Nothing brightens someone’s day more than a kind gesture. I’ve had the most fun with a grab bag model. I fill brown bags with gift cards, re-gifts, hats, mugs, lots of socks and more. And there’s always a big cake to celebrate a special occasion. As for candy, what better way to make friends with kids!
Kathy Walsh’s last day at CBS4 will be Sunday, May 30.