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Women We Admire
Shane Hoffman

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Sue Straughn

One of Pensacola’s best-known television personalities began her career with no interest at all in being on TV.

“I literally fell into this business,” said Sue Straughn, who appears daily behind the Channel 3 TV news desk. Her dream was to be a social worker.

“As I was working my way through school, one thing led to another,” she said. “I started out here as a clerk typist, and I worked on the management side of the business for 11 years before transitioning to news, and that was something I always said I’d never do. News people were just different people to me … And I knew nothing about news.”

Her modest assessment doesn’t do justice to an extraordinary, 33-year-long career with WEAR. Even then, the rise from clerk to news anchor was quite a feat. She credits her success to divine intervention.

That dream of being a social worker never left her, and her drive to help people in need has been a guiding force in her professional life.

“I always felt like I had not fulfilled my calling to be a social worker,” she said. “There was a very prominent dentist in the area at the time, Dr. Donald Spence, and one evening we were talking and he said, ‘Sue, you say that so often, but you’re able to do more social work from the news desk than you could ever do in a social worker’s office.’ I literally hope and pray every day that what I do is a vessel for greater good for people.”

Of the many community organizations that she is involved in, Communities Caring at Christmas is among the closest to her heart. She founded the program in 1979, when the station was looking for a way to give something back to the community. When it began, it primarily focused on providing food, clothing and some toys to families in need during the holidays. Over the years the program has come to focus primarily on toys for children in foster care. Last year, the program provided for 8,600 children, solely through donations from the community.

She has found many moments over the years when her call to service and her career in news converged, but the most memorable involved a sibling group of five children who were up for adoption. She featured them on her regular segment “Nobody’s Child.”

“I went into that story thinking nobody in their right mind is going to adopt five children,” she said. “And maybe subconsciously because of that I put more into that story that day than many others.”

To her great joy, all five children were adopted.

“The youngest was a little red-headed, freckled fellow, and he had a lisp,” she said. “We were sitting there in the judge’s chambers, and we were signing the papers and it was all done, and the judge said, ‘That’s it.’ And the little boy looked back at the caseworker and said, ‘I get to stay forever?’ I remember that day to this day.”

Among the many joyful moments, her job has had its share of painful ones. The most difficult assignment she ever had was to witness the execution of Paul Hill, who was convicted of murdering a doctor and an armed escort outside a Pensacola abortion clinic in 1994. Straughn described the emotional difficulty in watching a person be put to death. She found herself in the execution chamber trying to look at anything other than the doomed man.

Straughn grew up one of six children. She was born in Pensacola but moved around a lot, because her father was in the Army. Her parents worked hard and instilled a strong sense of values in their children, but she credits her mother as her greatest inspiration.

“No matter where we lived, our house was the house all of the children came to,” she said. “I don’t care how many sets of feet were under our table at dinnertime, at lunchtime — no child was ever sent home. And I watched more of our clothes walk out of the front door on some other child’s back.

“We were poor, and God knows we never knew it, but it wasn’t about what we had. For my mother, it was about what we had to give. I think just seeing that as I look back now, that’s what made the difference.”

She believes that everyone has the ability to make the world better, and she counts successes in ones, not in tens or hundreds.

“I think sometimes we look at the problems in the world … and we think they’re so big,” she said. “What can one person do to affect any kind of change and make a difference? If you are able to help one child be placed for adoption, if you’re able to buy a Christmas toy for one child, then you’ve made a world of difference in that one life. Start somewhere. Whatever your interest is, find an organization that is trying to meet that need in the community, call them, and they will find a place for you.”

For more information about Communities Caring at Christmas, call WEAR at 456-3333.


Who is Sue Straughn?

 • News anchor, public affairs director, producer at WEAR TV.

• Founder and organizer of Communities Caring at Christmas campaign.

• Involved in dozens of community organizations and initiatives, including ARC Gateway, Favor House, Council on Aging and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Escambia County.

• What you didn’t know about her: She’s a mystery buff who finds time to read between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. n She’s currently reading: “Motor Mouth” by Janet Evanovich.


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