October 23, 2018 at 4:17 pm #184170
Tom Hooper is best known for his reports on WITI-TV
Over the course of a 35-year career in local news, most of it as the “Contact 6” consumer watchdog, Tom Hooper’s name became synonymous with the journalism principles of comforting the afflicted and giving voice to the voiceless.
Hooper died Friday night in Georgia. He was 85.
Hooper’s gentle Tennessee twang became familiar in thousands of Milwaukee households as he helped viewers who’d been ripped off or mistreated.
“I wanted to be a star, an anchor,” Hooper told The Journal Sentinel’s television critic Duane Dudek in 2010. “I never heard of this ‘Contact 6’ thing. But it took off like wildfire.”
Hooper said that soon after the segment began, the station was receiving as many as 1,500 letters a week with viewers requesting help with various problems. The reporter tried to solve one on each 10 p.m. newscast, but he sent numerous others to the businesses involved asking that they respond to viewers themselves.
It was a simple idea, but Hooper’s reports changed Wisconsin, leading to changes in laws dealing with the monitoring of abused children, school bus safety and testing for real estate licenses.
Perhaps the most well-remembered segment changed only a single life. The foster parents of a blind and disabled child wrote to Hooper seeking a stroller. The girl also suffered from a large facial growth. After Hooper’s report aired, a surgeon volunteered to remove the growth.
Katrina Cravy took over “Contact 6” in July 1999 when Hooper retired. Cravy had worked at the station for only six months when she learned she was replacing a legend.
“People would say, ‘You’ve got big shoes to fill.’ I would say, ‘They’re not shoes, they’re fishing waders,’ ” said Cravy.
Hooper’s advice to Cravy was to take the job seriously but not to take herself seriously. And as evidence of that mantra, he showed her a letter sent to him at the station on his last day. The writer screwed up Hooper’s name and addressed the letter to “Don Whopper.”
When Hooper was awarded a Wisconsin Silver Circle Award in 2010 by the Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Cravy helped put together a story honoring him. She reviewed hours of footage of Hooper and was amazed to see a clip of a man accused of stabbing someone.
“He turned himself in to Tom live on camera. Tom said, ‘Why didn’t you turn yourself in to police?’ And the man said, ‘I don’t know them, I know you,’ ” Cravy remembered. “That was the familiarity this town had with him. When you were in trouble, you turned yourself in to Tom.”
Jill Geisler, a former WITI-TV news director, told Dudek, “I have this memory of not being able to go anywhere with Tom where there wasn’t someone who would come up to him. He was the attorney for people who couldn’t afford one.
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