Oral History: Texas Women in Journalism

For my Qualitative Research class, my partners and I were assigned the task of conducting an extensive, in-person interview with an accomplished “woman in journalism” in order to put together a thorough oral history for the University’s website. Our lovely subject, Suzie Humphreys, spent the majority of her career as a co-anchor on Dallas’ “News 8 Etc.” in the 1970s before going on to become a widely popular motivational speaker and author. For our project, we interviewed, transcribed, and summarized Humphreys’ amazing career as one of the highly regarded Texas Women in Journalism. All materials produced for this oral history project can be found on the University of North Texas’ Texas History Portal.

By: Katy Hartwick and Annie Wood

Motivational speaker, inspirational humorist, former radio and television talk show host, comedian, eternal optimist, actress, author, breast cancer survivor, believer in the power of oneself and probably one of the most honest people you will ever encounter, Suzie Humphreys epitomizes the saying that anything can be accomplished through persistence and a positive attitude.

Born and raised in San Antonio by a working, single mother, Humphreys grew up fiercely independent and passionate about life. While most women worked as teachers, nurses and secretaries, Humphreys’ mother worked in the male-dominated insurance industry, and woke up every morning excited to go to the office. Because of that, Humphreys firmly believed that talent and drive alone could get you anywhere you wanted to go in life.

Realizing early on that she was much different than her peers, Humphreys paved her own paths in life. In high school, after being kicked off the cheerleading squad, a resourceful Humphreys decided to put together a halftime routine and volunteered to be the school’s mascot: a mule. That way, she could still join in on the festivities, and do it all on her own terms.

After graduating from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Humphreys married her high school sweetheart and followed him to Hereford, Texas. After divorcing, she relocated back to San Antonio and then to Dallas, where she worked as a secretary for 14 years. While doing secretarial work by day in Dallas, Humphreys got her big opportunity as a performer when she auditioned for a show called “Bottom’s Up” at the Adolphus Hotel.

From that point, everything changed. She did a cross-country traveling tour performing with the group, and returned to Texas to begin a career as a television and radio actress. At a time when there were only a handful of female commercial actresses in Dallas, doors continued to open for Humphreys. And when an opportunity came along, she always said, “Yes.”

In 1970, Humphreys was hired as a news anchor for a new, experimental morning show for WFAA in Dallas, called “News 8 etc…” with co-hosts Don Harris and Gene Thomas. The show was on five days a week from 1970 to 1974, and was completely live. At the time, Humphreys and her co-host, Don Harris, served as the show’s producers as well. There were no Teleprompters or cue cards, and the show was a great hit with the Dallas audience.

Many queried over how the hosts were able to get such outstanding interviews from guests at 7 o’clock in the morning, and Humphreys attributes this to the comfortable, friendly settings in which the interviews were handled. She had the opportunity to drink Pepsi with Ray Charles, shoot shotguns with John Wayne at an old saloon, and drink bourbon with Bruce Cabot. According to Humphreys, Charlie Rose, who personally questioned her about her interview style, got his interview round-table setup from their show.

Humphreys’ “News 8 etc…” (left) and the Charlie Rose show (right) have similar round-table setups

Humphreys recalls her time spent on “News 8 etc…” as the best job she ever had until the untimely deaths of her co-hosts. After Harris left the show for a job opportunity in Los Angeles, Thomas took over his position, but was killed only two months after in a drag-racing accident while on assignment for “News 8 etc…” In 1978, Harris was shot and killed while reporting for NBC on Jim Jones’ The People’s Temple in Guyana. By that time, following the revolving door of fill-in hosts on the show, Humphreys had lost her “pizzazz” and was ultimately let go by the station.

At a low point in her life, Humphreys received the opportunity to guest host from the KVIL traffic helicopter in Dallas. Her first report was a comical disaster, and she humbly proclaimed she was not cut out to report news or the weather. Despite this, her wit and comedic flair landed her a full-time position on the show, and she ended up working for the station for 20 years.

In the meantime, after marrying her husband, Tom Mayo, she began speaking at events like the Texas Association of Broadcasters, and realized she had a zest for translating her passion for life to others. She gave a speech called “Life is What Happens to You When You’re Busy Making Other Plans,” which was about being tired and broke, and all the good that came from that. After experiencing all of life’s heartbreaks, Humphreys realized that with every devastation comes creation, and she wanted to share that idea with others.

Despite her enormous success as a motivational speaker, Humphreys has never written a single speech. She has a natural, raw talent for performing and inspiring others. At the core, she believes that her ability to connect with her audiences comes from truly loving what she does. And that, she believes, comes from watching her mother wake up every morning excited for the day to come and the work she was going to do.

At the end of every speech, Humphreys closes with a passage from Robert Hastings’ “The Station,” which describes the idea of enjoying the journey, rather than the destination in life. She believes the key to life is just saying “yes” to everything that comes along, because, as she says, “Saying ‘Yes’ leads to everything, while saying  ‘No’ leads to…well…nothing, nobody, and nowhere.”

To read the full interview transcription, please visit the Texas History Portal on the university’s website.


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