Diana Williams, the veteran WABC/7 news anchor, retired Thursday, wrapping nearly 30 years at the station.
Williams announced her departure in late May, saying on the air at the time, "it's hard to leave you guys" — referring to her 5 p.m. broadcast colleagues co-anchor Sade Baderinwa and meteorologist Lee Goldberg — "but I think you both know that the timing is right. My family has gone through tumultuous times. Everybody is in a good place right now, and I've learned that the most valuable commodity we have is time, and to be able to spend that time with them is going to be special and wonderful for me."
Williams, 61, has suffered two major family traumas in recent years. In 2015, her son, Nat, an Air Force pilot, was almost killed in a motorcycle accident near his base in Florida, suffering a brain injury. She recently posted on Facebook that "his severe TBI [traumatic brain injury] is now four years ago and no one knows what his brain will do when it comes to healing and recovery. Bottom line- he just keeps trying!"
In late 2014, her husband Doug was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease that can lead to organ failure and death. She wrote in 2018 that he was "currently in remission."
Williams — who began her TV career in Charlotte, North Carolina — joined Ch. 7 in 1991 as a reporter, later becoming a weekend anchor. She later co-anchored the 11 p.m. weeknight broadcast with Bill Beutel, later joining Beutel — who died in 2006 — on the 6 p.m. broadcast.
In a phone interview Thursday, Williams said that in the spring, the station had offered to extend her contract for "many many years," but she had made the decision by that point to leave. She stayed on through the summer because "over the course of my last five years here, people have filled in for me and had my back — you can't imagine the way they had my back," and as payback, she filled in for various colleagues on various newscasts to "give back to them what they have done for me."
She added, "the other reason is that I literally waited until I knew everybody" — her son and husband — "would be OK. For how long, I don't know [because] my husband's illness will come back. There is no cure, but he is in complete remission. His last series of blood tests — he has to get his blood work every two to three months — came back all good. We've got this window of opportunity to really enjoy our lives."
Williams — who also has two adult daughters — said her son, who is now 29, "nearly died" in the accident and that doctors initially feared he had died, "but you know, there is nothing that ever stopped my son, and you never listen to the doctor when you know your child."
She said "he will always have severe brain injury, but he's living a good life and he's always positive and happy. He's such a great guy. It's a blessing. Every day I look at how hard he works [and] I also know how to find resources [for him]. I don't stop. I'm pretty persistent but in a nice way." She says he recently moved into an apartment in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, with the daughter of a close friend who "died a number of years ago from ovarian cancer."
Meanwhile, Wiliams — who grew up in Fort Lauderdale — declines to call her departure "a retirement. I'm just going to do some new things. Honestly, I've earned that you don't know, and that in life the rug can get pulled out from under you at any time."
After she was brought on at the end of the 4 p.m. telecast by its co-anchor, David Novarro — who told her "how much we adore you and how much we will miss you" — Williams bid goodbye to him and co-anchor Liz Cho, who said, "It has been a real pleasure and a real honor and your friendship means so much to me."
Running through the 5 o'clock hour with Williams, Baderinwa and Goldberg was the segment "Celebrating Diana," in which City Councilman Corey Johnson presented a proclamation declaring this Diana Williams Day, and videos of well-wishers were intercut with the afternoon's news. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made Williams tear up as he called her "one of the great reporters in the New York area … both nice and hard-hitting," and said she "improved life in New York through her reporting over the years." Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly admired her "tenacity" and "professionalism," and WABC colleague N.J. Burkett expressed his admiration for "the mama bear of the newsroom."
An emotional Goldberg told Williams, "I hit the lottery getting a chance to sit next to you all these years." Baderinwa said that through "nearly 16 years, you have been by my side. And it has been such a pleasure and such an honor to be here alongside of you." Introducing a video respective of Williams' wide-ranging reporting and anchoring, Baderinwa said, "You've been here … with such grace, such class, such integrity, such smarts and with such heart." Disney chairman Bob Iger sent Williams a message Baderinwa read on air.
As the newscast ended, with colleagues, friends and family gathered around the desk, Williams called WABC "where I was meant to be, a station with great energy, great talent and reporting and a history grounded in diversity and community." Of her husband's and son's life-threatening travails, she said, "My colleagues and many of you on social media … got me through the toughest time of my life and I will be forever grateful for that." Recalling a children's song, she recited, "Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other is gold.' All of you here, all of you at home, are gold to me. Thank you for allowing me into your homes all these years and God bless."