Baton Rouge Icon Donna Britt passes

After a long battle with ALS, Donna Britt passed quietly in the night

A dear friend and former co-worker Donna Britt passed away quietly in the night. 

As many may know, she had been fighting ALS for a few years now. Please keep her family in your prayers. 

On my last visit with her, she made sure I included “I love you” in the update about her to make sure everyone knew that she truly loved the public and this city.

Personal Connection: More than 10 yrs ago, I was brand new to Baton Rouge. I didn’t know anyone here and I only knew one person at WAFB. It’s always intimidating walking into a new city and new job where you don’t know anyone. Add to that walking into a newsroom where legendary names like Donna Britt, George Sell and Paul Gates work. I had always heard of their names and the legends they were for news for decades. Now, I was working in the same building and alongside them. Then came the challenge of will I even be good enough to work with not only those big names, but everyone else there. I was a week into the job and a photographer and I had a late night with breaking news and a live shot for it. I remember we got back around 11:15pm that night and I decided to check my email before leaving. 

I found an email from Donna Britt reading, “Dear Kiran, you just ooze comfort. Your live shot was so silky smooth, confident…your sheer vocal inflections left me feeling you’ve been here for years. I hope you get as much of of being here, as we’ll get out of having you. You’re wonderful! Love Donna.” 

One of the people I was worried about being good enough for, left me that email. But that email served so much more than what it said. It told me that I fit in here, I belong here and Baton Rouge will become home (and did it ever). What else did I realize? Behind the legendary name Donna Britt was a beautiful, genuine heart. That was the start of something very special. I kept the email for years because it meant a lot. She stayed late after the 10pm news was over to leave me this note when majority of people are ready to leave as soon as the news is over because you’re just so tired. 

Just one week into the job, I got that boost of confidence from Donna Britt herself that I was doing right. I no longer needed to worry if I was good enough. I now just had to keep doing me. 

Every time I sat next to her on the anchor desk, it was an honor but I also felt at ease just knowing how much faith she had in me and my work. There were so many times she would stay late to shoot me an email or tell me in person that good job that day. Whenever I doubted myself, her emails boosted my confidence. But it wasn’t just her emails, Donna always shot me straight good or bad. 

I was so impressed with her beautiful heart because people in general aren’t made like her anymore. There was no fake tv Donna Britt and then the real Donna Britt. What you saw on tv is who she really was. I remember ringing the Salvation Army bells with her at Christmas and I did it because of her. 

I learned to just be yourself from her, to never shy away from being a loving, giving person even if others take advantage of you or talk about you because you’re a bigger person than them. 

I watched as things started changing for her, be it how others treated her among other things. I spoke up on her behalf because it bothered me but Donna never said a word and her attitude towards those specific people never changed negatively. That was huge for me to watch her do that. It also taught me how much of a bigger person she was than the rest because years later, she told me she knew exactly what all was going on but that she chose not to say anything. When it came time, I remember her pulling me to a side twice: once to tell me she’s been diagnosed with ALS and a second time to tell me she was hanging it up at work for good. I started crying and she wiped my tears and wouldn’t let me leave until I was no longer sad. Mind you, she’s the one going through a hard time yet here she was wiping my tears. 

After she left work, I continued visiting her and enjoyed my visits. I remember celebrating her birthdays at home, eating lunches and drinking coffee around the table and laughing about all our old memories. Sadly, I watched ALS take its toll on her but never did I find her down. I’m sure she had her moments but she never let people see her. She gracefully fought it. Even two weeks ago when I saw her, she told me she loved me despite wearing her ventilator. Those words meant so much and mean everything now. She was happy and that made me happy. I know Donna is in a good place now and no longer suffering but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept that a gem of a person is gone. I wish there were more Donna Britt’s in the world because the world would be a much better place. I’m blessed to have had the last decade with her, to have worked alongside her and most importantly, to have learned some very crucial life lessons from her because I’ll always carry her with me. Until we meet again Donna, I love you so very much. May you Rest In Peace now.

About Kiran Chawla 920 Articles
I'm an Emmy & Murrow Award winning investigative reporter who simply loves my job!

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