Lisa Flynn will sign off television Wednesday, leaving her high-profile news anchor career for the humbler but more rewarding title of Mommy.
Flynn, who anchors the 5:30 p.m. newscast on WIVB, Channel 4, and the 10 p.m. news on its sister station, WNLO, says for the past two years, her schedule of working 2 to 10:30 p.m. has been tough on her son, Thomas, now 7, and her husband, Tom Burton, an attorney with a busy practice.
"Right now I think, 'Why didn't I do it sooner?,' but I can't focus on that. For the past six months I've had such clarity, but the emotion is difficult," she says.
Flynn, 46, a Buffalo native and a popular fixture on the local news scene, started at WIVB in 1996, after spending six years at Channel 7 as a reporter.
In explaining her decision to leave the top-rated local news station, she quotes a friend and colleague. "Jacquie Walker always said, 'Women can have it all, but not all at once,' and that is so true," says Flynn. "I believe you can have it all, but you can't be good at everything."
The day she made the decision -- she calls it "the date the lightning struck" -- was Dec. 3, 2009, when she had a conference with Thomas' first-grade teacher.
Flynn says, "His teacher said to me, 'I have to tell you, Thomas is so sad when you drop him off in the morning, and it takes him a long time to focus on his work.' " When the teacher asked Thomas what was wrong, he told her, "I'm not going to see my mom until tomorrow morning."
The story both devastated and motivated Flynn. In the privacy of her car, weeping, she called her husband and said, "I'm quitting."
She says, "I wanted to quit that day. He said to me, 'You can't quit. You have to honor your contract.' " They agreed to talk later, but Flynn's mind was made up. They made the decision that when her three-year contract ended Wednesday, she would leave the job she loved. In June, she told her bosses.
"When my son entered kindergarten, I knew that this night shift would not work for us long-term, but I was trying to make it work, I think selfishly to hang onto my career, hang onto that life," says Flynn.
Flynn had considered staying home after Thomas was born in March 2003. But her husband, who, she says, "knows me better than I know myself," told her, "This is your life, your career, there are a lot of working mothers, you can do this."
And it did work out, for Thomas' first five years. Flynn would spend the morning with Thomas, and when he took a nap at 2 p.m., she'd go to work. "Our baby sitter would keep him up, and he'd be up when I got home, and we had a normal life," she says.
But once he started kindergarten, Flynn says, everything changed. "He was going to bed at 8 o'clock and I would only see him in the morning to wake him up and get him out the door. It was not a quality life; it was terrible. I would only see him on weekends, and he would cry, and ask me, 'Why can't you quit?' "
After Thomas started kindergarten, Flynn tried driving from the station on Elmwood Avenue in the city to their Clarence home for dinner a few nights a week -- a half-hour drive each way that left her just a half-hour to eat. "He'd be crying when I left," she says. "My husband finally said, 'This is too upsetting for him, you can't do this.' "
Flynn carries a load of self-inflicted guilt over her choices. "Thomas' whole life, seven years, has been spent seeing Mommy run out the door," she says. "This is all hitting me now. I've always been, 'Mommy has to go, I'm going to be late!' like any other working mom. But the unique thing here was the hours, it was the night shift."
For the last two years, Burton, who carries a full caseload in his busy law practice, has cared for their son every evening. After arriving home at 7 p.m., Burton would oversee Thomas' homework, shower and bedtime and eat his own dinner. Burton, who is a quadriplegic as a result of a 1993 motorcycle accident, also does physical therapy four to five nights a week, Flynn says. "But he never complained, he was completely supportive of my career."
The day after the meeting at school, Flynn and Burton told their son that things would change for him. Her voice quavers as she recalls saying to him, "One way or the other, on June 30, Mommy is going to be home."
Her son was "thrilled," she says, "and he started to count down the months." Last week, Thomas told his baby sitter, "I'm the luckiest kid in the world, my mom's going to be home!"
Flynn is clear-eyed about the challenges that will face the family. "I don't know if he knows what he's in for," she says of her son. "There's going to be a lot more structure in the house, and there is going to be some adjustment time, I know that.
"I told my husband, you have to allow me time to grieve, because leaving this job, this was my life. This was the hardest yet the easiest decision I've ever had to make."
Burton and Flynn discussed whether she would stay at the station part time if that was offered, but, she says, "Tom said, 'If your idea here is to focus on Thomas, let's do it 100 percent. You've worked for 24 years in this business. It's time to focus on your family.' And he was right. Tom knows me."
Chris Musial, general manager and president of WIVB and WNLO, said he's sorry to lose Flynn, but he understands her decision. "I am thrilled for her," he says, "but a little sad for us. All working people and family people get tugged in so many different directions. I fully support her, and I'm happy that she's happy. "
For the time being, Lia Lando, who filled in for Michelle McClintick as anchor of Weekend Wake Up during McClintick's maternity leave, will fill the 5:30 and 10 p.m. anchor spots, says News Director Joe Schlaerth.
Musial says Schlaerth is beginning the search to replace Flynn. "He's starting to get some tapes from across the country, but who knows?" says Musial. "Maybe we'll be able to identify someone within the building, within our market, or in this end of New York State."
On her final newscast Wednesday at 10 p.m. on WNLO, Flynn will do a two-minute story that covers some of the highlights of her long career, including the Sept. 11 terror attacks and last year's crash of Flight 3407.
After Wednesday, everything will change. Flynn and Burton hope to travel a little, maybe go out to dinner during the week. She plans to work on Burton's Web site, tackle some home repairs and volunteer at Thomas' school in September.
And what about a return to TV in the future?
"I am leaving that door open, but at my age, I have to be realistic, because it's not something I would do next year," Flynn says. "It would be three or four years down the road, and who's going to hire a 50-year-old in this day and age?
"I would love to come back at some point, and when those big stories break, I'd love to jump in," she says. "But for right now, we are excited about this new chapter. I will never regret choosing my son. I could feel sorry for myself that I'm not going to be on TV, but I'll never regret staying home with him. We have a lot of catching up to do."