“What’s it like getting old?”
My grown daughter, Leigh, had framed the question more artfully and meant it sincerely. It was about 1am, a late-night chat in my kitchen. Leigh was making a rare visit from her new-ish home on the west coast.
The question was legit. In the previous year, I had become the patient of a cardiologist. A condition called atrial fibrillation had struck me in July, causing my heart to beat irregularly. The biggest danger of “afib” is stroke. (In November, I had a procedure that appears to have fixed the heartbeat – fingers crossed.)
Around the time Leigh asked me that question, I saw an alert on my phone announcing the untimely death of my former coworker, Amanda Davis.
Davis was 62 according to the AJC, a mere three years my senior. The AJC said she’d suffered “a massive stroke.”
I answered Leigh by saying that, apart from the irregular heartbeat and the fatigue afib had created, I feel like I’m the same person who inhabited this body thirty years ago.
Three decades ago, I was a fresh hire at WAGA-TV. Amanda Davis was the news anchor / reporter hired a few weeks after me. I remember our news director, Jack Frazier, talking her up after we’d watched her do a live shot at Grady Hospital on our noon newscast on (what I remember as) her first day at work. She was a lot of things I wasn’t — confident on the air, fluid and natural, and easy on the eyes. She was hitting her stride as a smart and appealing big-city TV news pro. Frazier had hired her away from WSB-TV. He looked very, very pleased with himself.
Amanda was barely thirty years old.
She would go on to become the on-air face of WAGA’s new morning newscast, Good Day Atlanta, then succeed Brenda Wood as the station’s evening news anchor.
Sweet and professional but rather guarded personally, my encounters with Amanda at work were upbeat and often humorous, but mostly fleeting. My longest conversations with her were prior to my appearances alongside her in the studio, where I would deliver stories on the evening news. My favorite memory of her was when she showed up at a 2003 party my wife threw at our home after photog Eddie Cortes and I returned from a stint covering the invasion of Iraq. My starstruck mother- and father-in-law had collared her in the kitchen, and Amanda graciously lingered with them to chat.
Unlike the hostess’ husband, Amanda retained her sobriety that night. Her drinking “problem” was news to me when her DUI arrests became public.
The last time we spoke was after Amanda’s forced departure from WAGA. She showed up in the press room of the Georgia House of Representatives on the first day of the legislative session. She was seated, alone, in the room overlooking the House chamber, where a friend of hers was being sworn in as a member. I walked in. We embraced. I asked her how she was doing. She said she was OK. The hurt look on her face said otherwise. As we parted company, I felt terrible for her.
I give WGCL a lot of credit for hiring her, then sticking with her following another DUI arrest a few weeks after her hiring. I don’t know how the struggles of the famous impact those experiencing similar issues. I want to believe that Amanda Davis’ public effort to purge alcohol from her life inspired at least a few people to do the same thing. If so, perhaps WGCL saved some people some heartache by putting her back on TV.
No doubt, WGCL had plenty of applications from smart and attractive thirty year olds willing to do the same job for a fraction of the salary Amanda hopefully commanded in her sixties.
She was on a roll, hitting her stride yet again as a smart, appealing and experienced big-city TV news pro.
Getting old ain’t so bad. Amanda Davis should have gotten a chance to enjoy it longer.