There were her hugs. There were her high-fives. There was also her laughter. Lots of laughter.
But more than anything there was her love, a seemingly endless supply of it, for her family, for her work and for nearly everyone with whom she came into contact.
A day after WVUE-Fox 8 anchor Nancy Parker was killed in a small-plane crash in New Orleans East, she was remembered Saturday by her still-stunned colleagues as a devoted mother, a dedicated journalist and an unwavering beacon of light and warmth.
“She was the same person on the air and off the air, which is not something everybody can pull off,” said John Snell, Parker’s co-anchor for the past 21 years at WVUE. “When viewers saw her, they saw this warm, sincere, caring, funny person. That’s who she was. That was Nancy.”
Those were among the qualities, Snell said, that caught the attention of WVUE management when they hired Parker — then working as an anchor in Baton Rouge — in 1996. They were the same qualities that made her popular with viewers, interview subjects and public figures alike, who responded to Friday’s news with a groundswell of love and grief.
Those weighing in on social media about Parker’s death included U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and local actor Wendell Pierce, along with a legion of local and national media figures.
The 53-year-old Parker was killed along with pilot Franklin Augustus, 69, with whom she was working on a story, when the two-seat Pitts S-2B stunt plane in which they were riding crashed in a field Friday afternoon soon after taking off from Lakefront Airport. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the crash.
“She was such a huge, positive energy in our newsroom,” said WVUE anchor Liz Reyes, who was anchoring the station’s 4 p.m. newscast as details of the crash were still coming in. “That’s what makes it so difficult.”
Reyes had spoken with her earlier in the day, shortly before Parker left the newsroom for the last time and headed to the airport. Although she had been at work since 5:30 a.m. to co-anchor WVUE’s morning news, as she did every weekday, she was excited about the story on which she was working.
“And that’s just her,” Reyes said. “She loved to tell stories that mattered. That’s what stood out about Nancy. She was one of the best storytellers ever. She took you on a journey with her stories. She poured everything into it, and yesterday was a good example of that. She just wanted to go the extra mile to tell the story, even if that meant going up in a stunt plane, which she was excited to do.”
According to WVUE anchor Lee Zurik, her success started with her uncanny ability to connect with people. “But then she had that gift of making that interaction into a story that captured everything about it perfectly,” he said. “The way she wrote it, the way she crafted it. … Nancy Parker was the best storyteller this city has ever seen since I’ve been alive.”
When she wasn’t on the air, Parker could often be found holding court in the WVUE newsroom on South Jefferson Davis Parkway, telling stories to her colleagues — and, more often than not, keeping them in stitches.
Then, fueled by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, she would head home, where she would bake fresh cookies or brownies for her and husband Glynn Boyd’s three children so the house would smell like a home when they returned home from school.
“She loved those kids,” Reyes said. “As devoted as she was to her job and pouring herself into it and working extra hours, (her life) didn’t stop when she left that building. … She just lived for them. They were the love of her life. She was just a rare human being.”
She was also a rare journalist.
Her playful, never-met-a-stranger demeanor was easily among her most endearing qualities. Reyes remembers her singing on-set. Zurik remembers her dancing during commercial breaks, right up until the second before the cameras went live again. Snell remembers her having a knack for levity — like the time she grabbed a boa constrictor during a segment with a guest from the Audubon Zoo and rushed meteorologist Shelby Latino with it.
But beneath that congeniality was the heart of a newswoman, dating from her first paying media gig, which she got with radio station WJHO-AM in her hometown of Opelika, Alabama, when she was a 17-year-old high school senior.
Since then, she won a raft of awards for her work, including five Emmys and five Edward R. Murrow Awards.
“She knew when to be serious,” Snell said. “She broke the story about tainted drywall in several thousand Louisiana homes (after Hurricane Katrina). Nancy Parker broke that story. She had those qualities where she was the girl next door, a sweetheart, but she could also do a tough story.”
Away from the camera, she was an active supporter of a litany of community groups and charities, including St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the American Cancer Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Dress for Success and others.
“You’d need more pages in the newspaper to list them all,” WVUE anchor Kim Holden said. “It’s so long. We tried to list them and ran out of time. It was just the tip of the iceberg. … It’s a huge loss for New Orleans.”
All of that — the storytelling skills, the community work, the generosity, the kindness — made Parker a one-of-a-kind person who deserves a place alongside other recently deceased New Orleans icons, Reyes said.
“I like to think her, Leah (Chase) and Fats Domino are up there with the angels, just getting some well-deserved rest,” Reyes said. “She was the real deal.”
Mike Scott covers TV and movies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.