Gifted Journalist and Revered TV News Exec Remembered

By Keoki Kerr

Wally Zimmermann, a beloved news director who mentored several generations of journalists
from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Honolulu, is being remembered as a brilliant communicator
who treated employees as family and taught them life-long lessons.

He died Jan. 5 at his home near Nashville, Tenn., ten days after being diagnosed with an aggressive
form of liver cancer, his wife Jolie said. She said he walked into Vanderbilt's ER Dec. 26 because
he wasn't feeling well and was quickly admitted to their hospital. Doctors confirmed a diagnosis
of cancer the next day. He was discharged from the hospital Friday, Dec. 30, and returned home,
where he died in hospice care.

His sudden death at age 73 sparked an outpouring of tributes, stories and love on social media.
Former and current news reporters, anchors, producers, video journalists and others called him
a father figure from whom they learned about journalism and life.

"Wally was our coach, we were all his players," said Robert Kekaula, sports director at KITV
in Honolulu, where Wally served as news director for 13 years from 1988 to 2001, his longest
tenure heading four TV news departments in his career. A 27-year KITV veteran, Kekaula is
the last news employee hired by Wally who is still working at Channel 4.

"There are few in our lives we cherish, work with, learn from," Kekaula added. "He invested
in us not as employees, but as people, friends, family at times."

Daryl Huff spent nearly 20 years working for Wally at KITV and KHON, where Huff held a
variety of positions - producer, assignment editor and reporter covering state government,
politics and courts. Wally had two tours of duty at KHON, where he was executive producer
and promoted to news director from 1982 to 1987 and then executive producer of its morning
newscast from 2002 to 2006.

"There was a way Wally had of telling you that he had confidence in you that I have never
experienced with anyone else, in or out of television," Huff recalled. "The foundation was his
directness, humor, humility and honesty, which made every criticism and compliment
feel completely sincere and constructive. You always learned from him."

His patience with people spawned a joke in the newsroom -- "that we were working in
'Wallyworld' -- a place where no-one ever gets fired. My own theory is that Wally had been fired
enough times himself that he resolved that firing someone meant he, Wally, had failed to find the
right place for that person," Huff added.

KITV alumnus Dan Cooke, who was a feature reporter, weather anchor and main news anchor
at Channel 4, said, "Wally was like my dad."

"He encouraged me, coached me, talked me through some rough spots over the years, and I
disappointed him at times, I'm sure. But our relationship survived. And for that I am so thankful.
I love you Wally. And I miss you already," wrote Cooke, now a morning weather anchor at Hawaii
News Now.

Dick Allgire, who was a health reporter, weekend and main anchor at KITV, said, "Wally
assembled two great news organizations in Hawaii. First, KHON and then KITV. Wally loved
being around and interacting with interesting and fun people, so he brought in people who were
always interesting and fun. He would allow some of us to be quirky long as it was fun and interesting.
What a great guy to work for."

Erin Ostrem worked at KITV as a producer, assignment editor and police reporter under Wally and
called him the "best boss I ever had who had the biggest impact on my career. But most of all, he truly cared
about his people."

Rick Pike moved from Australia to Honolulu to take a job as news cameraman at KITV and recalled,
"Wally took a chance on me and gave me a job over the phone, picked me up from the airport helped
me find an apartment, guided me and was like my Hawaiian dad."

Erin Kinney was a new weekend producer at KITV, having recently moved from the promotions
department, when one weekend evening, she said she "messed up and left my anchor hanging on the air
with nothing to say."

"Wally took me aside on Monday morning and gently counseled me. Together, we watched the air check
and counted the long and dreadful 14 seconds that our anchor was without a script or tape. Wally told me
I needed to always have a Plan B and Plan C and D and so on. Valuable advice not only for news but for life
in general that I will remember forever. I will never forget Wally's sparkling eyes, his rascal grin and pure
heart," Kinney said.

Brent Suyama, who began as a KITV intern under Wally, moved up from associate producer to producer and
then web editor.

"He was passionate, told great stories, talked too close and loved hot dogs and Greek food," Suyama said.

One year, Suyama and his wife Stacey lost many Christmas gifts just days before the holiday because of a burglary.

"Wally gave me a check for $200 and said go buy some new presents. He said it was a collection. I never found
out if anyone else contributed," Suyama said.

Gifted teacher and snappy dresser

He taught Suyama and countless other journalists to keep sentences short and precise.

"If you can get one word out of every story in a newscast you can fit another story," Wally told Suyama. He also
taught people to let the best pictures tell the story. Don't let your words get in the way of good video or a good
soundbite, he'd say.

He would give news staffers wise counsel with simple lines like "never be boring."

Other "Wally Wisdom" journalists still use every day:

o Use your best picture or sound at the top of the story.

o Instead of a voice-over to a soundbite, why not start with sound and then go to a VO?

o Get the conflict high up in the story.

o If you're doing an ambush interview, keep your audience on your side.

o Think about what it would be like to have a microphone thrust in your face by a reporter and asked to
comment on something. Approach people not used to the media gently.

o Have the anchors put the story in context up front. Why is it important, interesting or historic?

Known around newsrooms as Wally Z, Waldo, Walt, Zimmy and other beloved nicknames, he was also a natty dresser.

"Starched white shirts with french cuffs. Great pleated pants. And, yes, the man purse. So cool," recalled Ann Botticelli,
who worked at both KHON and KITV when Wally headed their newsrooms, where she was a government and business
reporter as well as weekend anchor.

He used the same Coach leather man purse for more than 30 years, a look that was years ahead of its time.

A native of Chicago, Wally was a plain-spoken midwesterner who used phrases such as "For crying out loud," "He's
full of canal water," and "You're full of hot air!" Can you tell he dealt with news people and politicians a lot?

When he would tire of someone being in his office, he would say firmly, "I love you. Now get out of here. I mean it."

But also he had important advice for people in the newsroom on a day when things didn't go right.

"Life is a marathon, not a sprint," he'd tell people. "You have a clean slate tomorrow!"

His wife Jolie said she loved another of his sayings: "It's not what we say, it's what we do."

"That's his character, right there," Jolie said.

Famous for his wry sense of humor, he had a sign in his KITV office that said, "Flogging will continue until
morale improves."

Amazing producer and writer

Never one to revel in administrative tasks, budgets and corporate edicts while news director, he loved to fill-in
for vacationing or sick producers and assignment editors. And things got very interesting when he produced
a newscast or ran the assignment desk.

Those newscasts Wally produced were full of great writing, amazing transitions and great, substantive television
that was different from anything else. He was always innovating but still grounded in old-school journalistic values.

"Let's make the late news look like Entertainment Tonight," he said one night when he temporarily sat in the
producer's chair.

Albert How, a former KITV producer and web editor, recalled Wally "Once led the 10 o'clock news with Susan
Lucci not winning an Emmy for the 8th (or was it 9th? Or 10th) time."

Jodi Leong, a former KITV associate producer, producer, reporter and weekend anchor, remembered, "He
was gleeful while writing teases! He'd often take 20 minutes to write a 10-second tease, but when he was done
he'd proudly exclaim -- 'Every word a jewel!!'"

"Now that was profound," he'd say after reading a particularly meaningful sentence he'd just written.

He was a great story teller, whether it was writing a TV news story or swapping tales over a beer.

And he was calm, to-the-point and substantively helpful when speaking to reporters and anchors in their ear
pieces during live shots and breaking news, skills that are rare in a business where many producers are only
concerned about whether a segment is running a few seconds long.

Building successful newsrooms that were fun places to work

Wally shepherded KHON Channel 2 News from No. 3 to No. 1 when he was news director for five and a half
years until 1987. KITV-4 was rated third out of three stations when he became its news boss in 1988, and was
a strong No. 2 (out of four news stations) when he departed in 2001.

He set up beat systems with skilled reporters covering city and state government, courts, police, business, health
and other areas. But besides hard news, he encouraged interesting features on people, places and traditions
in the islands.

At KHON, Wally allowed reporter Pamela Young to create her popular "Mixed Plate" franchise, showcasing her
strong writing and gift for wry observations about Hawaii's most interesting personalities, past times and places
far and wide.

"He taught us to treat people like family, to put the story ahead of ego. He fought against the corporate, cookie-
cutter pasteurization of news. We are his legacy, each of us who were privileged to be praised, scolded and molded
by this incredible mentor," said Young, who went on to anchor newscasts for nearly 25 years at KITV, most of those
with her husband Gary Sprinkle in the co-anchor seat.

Former KHON reporter Ray Lovell began a popular feature called "Ray Lovell's Journal" under Wally's leadership,
exploring old films, photos and stories of Hawaii's past.

Lovell said, "He taught me so much, not with lectures or demands, but by asking simple question that caused me to think
more deeply about a story I had covered."

"Wally took the team we had and polished us to a shine so bright were the best news program in Hawaii for many years,"
recalled former KHON news cameraman Harry Alama. "I called him sensei because he was the teacher."

Wally returned to KHON as executive producer of the Channel 2 Morning News in the early 2000s.

Former KHON morning anchor Tannya Joaquin remembered, "Wally would scrutinize EVERY word while proofing
packages much to the dismay of his sleep-deprived morning anchors at KHON (the late) Kirk Matthews and me, who
would have to turn a story every day after anchoring the three-hour newscast. We loved/hated his work ethic. LOL, but
with his laugh, charm and man purse, you couldn't resist."

"He deeply cared about news, his team and the community and he will be missed," Joaquin said.

Former KHON news producer Toni Schwartz said, "Even when things were crazy he was always positive. He was always
ready with a smile, a laugh, and a joke to brighten everyone's day."

His family reacts to online tributes

His widow Jolie said the outpouring of dozens of tributes on Facebook was comforting.

"Reading the stories, jokes and memories of friends feels like a warm blanket wrapping around us," Jolie said, which was
helpful since they woke up the morning after Wally died to the winter's first snowfall in the Nashville area.

"We are re-living wonderful memories and learning new stories we've never heard. It feels as if all the love he had
for his friends and family all over the world has come flooding back to us, tenfold. We are so deeply comforted
and grateful," she added.

Wally and Jolie's daughter Dawson, 21, who graduated from Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts in May 2016,
wrote, "I feel like through all of the pictures, stories, and memories about Dad that are popping up on Facebook, he is still
looking out for us and giving us a gift. It really helps me to read the glowing praise everyone has for him. Dad is even
more of a rockstar than I thought he was."

Melanie Radkiewicz, his sister from Elkhorn, Wisconsin, who was with the family in Tennessee when he died, said,
"We read tributes all day. It helps so much. We have no closure right now, but that helps. The outpouring is empowering
for us and for him, after us all being so helpless and hopeless. It helps replace that feeling a little."

Sandy Weith, Wally's sister in Bloomington, Indiana, and her husband Bob Weith, wrote: "The tributes confirm the
things we have always loved about him, but they also amplify those qualities with such personal touches. We don't
know these folks but their remembrances are so heartwarming."

Family and his oldest friends called him Mick or Mickey, which is what his mother had called him.

His daughter remembers a father figure who was her real-life father

Wally's daughter Dawson has been working at Amazon Prime in Nashville and on the Country Music Television
network show Nashville as an extra since she graduated summa cum laude from college last spring.

Fortunately, Dawson had left her Amazon Prime job just before the holidays, so she was immediately free to devote
all her time to being with her father in his final days. She's now looking for work.

Bard College at Simon's Rock is a school that specializes in "early education," with students who started college
at younger ages. Dawson entered Bard at age 16 and majored in creative writing.

Dawson shared childhood memories of how much her dad loved to go to the beach, particularly Kaimana Beach
in Waikiki on Oahu.

"He was always the dad in the water with all the kids, throwing them around and having a great time," Dawson recalled.
"He was also the dad all the other kids wanted to hang out with. And sometimes I'd get jealous. But I was the one
who got to go home with him."

Wally and Jolie named her Dawson after Dawson Springs, Kentucky, the small town where Jolie's family is from.

"We were trying to think of a name for her and I mentioned to Wally that I like naming children after cities, such as Austin,"
Jolie recalled. "Wally thought about that and said, 'How about Dawson?' He joked it was between Dawson, where I came
from, and Elmhurst, Illinois, his home town. Elmhurst, he said, would not have worked!"

It was Wally's idea to adopt a child, Jolie said. And in 1996, the couple headed to Wuhan, China to adopt Dawson,
who was then just seven months old.

"That was the biggest gift I ever got from my father," Dawson said.

TV success started in Wisconsin

Long before he made Hawaii his home, Wally spent 10 years (1970 to 1980) at WLUK-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin,
where he started as a reporter, was promoted to producer and then became news director after three years at the station.

He hired Fred D'Ambrosi as a producer, who wrote on Facebook that "He was the perfect first news director: kind,
intelligent, honest, funny and creative. From him, I learned to look at things holistically. What's the point? What are
we really trying to say or accomplish here? Where are we going?"

D'Ambrosi has spent 39 years in TV news, 17 of those as a news director. He is currently news director at Cleveland
19 news, a CBS TV affiliate.

Bill Beagle, who also worked for Wally as weekend sports anchor and sports reporter in the WLUK newsroom, said,
"There is no finer testament to a man, no better legacy that one can leave, than the people he brings together in his lifetime.
Any time I reflect on our TV-11 newsroom, the collection of characters, the atmosphere, the unpretentiously vibrant,
exuberant, zany and creative atmosphere, I am still awe-struck: 'Wow, holy cow, what a time we had!'"

Beagle went on to become a feature reporter, host of a TV magazine show and news anchor.
Beagle's wife, Susan Davies, also an WLUK alum, recalled, "Wally gave so many of us our first chance.
Know anything about weather? No problem. He hired a (University of Wisconsin Green Bay) instructor
to tutor me and three weeks later I was doing weekends. Who else would do that? When I asked him why,
he said he saw something. Plus my GPA was higher than his. Never had a better boss. The lessons he taught
are with me today - take pride in your craft, give your best each day, treat others the way you want to be treated,
leave your ego at the door and never lose your sense of humor."

Wally hired Davies when she was still a college student to do weekend weather; she worked her way into reporting
in Green Bay, and then moved on to markets as large as Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Andy Field, an WLUK alumnus who is now an ABC correspondent in Washington, D.C., said, "We should all
be this lucky to work with people that took this much joy in what they do."

Wally also hired a young Jonathan Murray in his Green Bay newsroom in Green Bay. Murray went on to be the
founder of reality TV (along with his business partner Mary Ellis Bunim) with his MTV show Real World. They
are the executive producers of Project Runway on Lifetime, Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and many
other reality shows.

Kris Olson, a former TV-11 film and video editor and news special assignment producer, wrote, "Reading everyone's
tributes to this great man just makes me feel privileged to have been a part of this family while he was shaping our futures.
What I learned during that time has influenced everything I've accomplished since."

"But what is more striking - more admirable - is to have this many people, here and everywhere he went, feel this way about him.
Without even realizing it, he created a family that spans far and wide by treating everyone he touched with compassion and love.
We all should leave the indelible mark he did on as many people in as many places," Olson added.

Wally's newsroom pals produced a hilarious goodbye video for him in 1980, when he left Green Bay for Honolulu. It included
rare footage of an on-camera standup of him from his reporting days.

Upon his departure, the Green Bay Packers presented him with a jersey with his name on the back and members of the team signed
a football for him. They had gotten to know him at a bar between their practice field and the news station, where he used to drink
beers with friends after the newscast.

Recent and early years

Wally spent the last five years as a strategic media and public relations consultant in Honolulu. He and his wife Jolie moved to
Tennessee in the fall of 2015, where Jolie went to work teaching English at Maplewood High School in East Nashville.
Zimmermann continued to do work for clients in Hawaii, including coordinating the annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony
at Ala Moana Beach Park on Memorial Day, which was broadcast on Hawaii News Now.

Before that, he spent six and a half years as the senior vice president for client services as Bright Light Marketing in Honolulu,
working for well-known public relations executive Lynette Lo Tom. They would both enthusiastically volunteer at the Society
of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter fundraising performances of the Gridiron Show, the every-other-year political satire
review put on by journalists and public relations professionals. Tom would cook fabulous meals for the cast and crew and Wally
would be one of her cheerful servers, offering sage advice and quips to his former employees and new generations of journalists
involved in the show.

He also was director of communications at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii from 2001 to 2002 and news director at WDIV-TV
in Detroit from 1987 until 1988.

Early in his news career, Wally spent one year as a news producer in the Chicago bureau of ABC Radio News from 1969 to 1970,
where he served as a fact-checker for legendary radio newsman Paul Harvey.

Ray Lovell, a former KHON reporter, said Wally told him "he once challenged the famed commentator about a line in his script
concerning the number of B-52's that flew a bombing mission over North Vietnam. AP had given a different number. Wally
said Harvey simply reached for his phone, dialed a number and said, "Mel, please tell this young man how many B-52's were
on the latest bombing mission over North Vietnam." Harvey handed the phone to Wally who found himself talking with U.S.
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who confirmed the number of B-52's he had given to Paul Harvey."

Wally joined the U.S. Army after college, working for Armed Forces Radio and Television. He was stationed on tiny Johnston
Atoll in the Pacific where he was a deejay and newscaster for the radio station there.

He also spent time privately debriefing military personnel coming back from Vietnam about their experiences before they went
home. He told his wife Jolie that even though he didn't do time in Vietnam during the war, he experienced the trauma and stress of
the war through the interviews and debriefs he conducted. Perhaps that's one reason he reminded his reporters years later to be
empathetic listeners when they went into the field.

Wally remained close to four friends with whom he served on Johnston Atoll and they got together for reunions over the years.

In 1966, he graduated from Ripon College in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he majored in history, played baseball (he was a rare
left-handed shortstop) throughout his college career and basketball his first two years. He was such a good baseball player that
in his junior year, a pro team tried to recruit him, family members said. But his father counseled him that if he took the baseball
job, he probably would not finish college, so he stayed in school.

He also was a columnist for the college newspaper and play-by-play announcer for football and basketball on Ripon's radio station.

Fellow Ripon alum Richard Ellch said, "I was the play by play announcer for the Ripon football and basketball home and
away games and brought him on as my on air color man a year later. He was a natural and I was not surprised at his later
success in broadcasting. He was the most genuine and interesting person I have ever known."

In college, Wally had several roommates who went on to become household names around the world: movie actor Harrison
Ford and jazz musician Al Jarreau. He was in the same fraternity - Sigma Nu - as Ford, who he called Harry.

Wally and Ford seriously thought about going to work in Australia under an Aussie program that recruited young men to
work down under, his wife Jolie said, but they decided against it.

Jarreau occasionally sang with Wally, who was a vocalist the folk rock group The Brothers Gross at Ripon, family members said.

At Ripon, Wally was also a good friend of Frances Lee McCain, with whom he remained close all his life. She became a well-known
actress, appearing in major movies including Back to the Future, Footloose, Gremlins and numerous other movies and TV shows.

During that time, he also went on a few dates with Ann-Margret, who would go on to become a famous movie actress, Las Vegas
nightclub performer and superstar sex symbol.

His family is planning a celebration of his life in Hawaii this March; arrangements are still pending.

People interested in sending a personal message to his wife Jolie and daughter Dawson can email

In lieu of flowers, his family asks people to donate to the cancer charity of their choice in Wally's name.

(Writer's note: Two decades ago, when he was editing a story I wrote about someone who'd died, Wally told me to use the victim's
first and last name on second and third reference (instead of just his last name) because it would sound more sympathetic and less
cold. In that spirit, I've referred to Wally by his first name throughout this article. Style guide, be damned! Thanks, Wally, for all
the great advice. I'm still using it! - Keoki Kerr)