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COMMENTARY

Sherry Margolis: A life of love, loss and resilience

Sherry Margolis was a student at Williamsville South when Irv Weinstein spoke at an assembly for the National Honor Society.

“I told him I was going to work with him someday,” she says. “I guess I had moxie.”

Sure enough, Margolis worked with Weinstein at Channel 7 during the station’s glory days. This month she will join the late Buffalo broadcasting legend for a second time — in the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

Six new members will enter on Sept. 19, including Margolis, who will be honored with the Buffalo Bob Smith Award, named for the Buffalo-born host of the Howdy Doody show. Past honorees include Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer, Mark Russell and Pete Weber.

Margolis is an award-winning TV news anchor in Detroit at WJBK, where she has worked for 35 years since leaving Channel 7. She loves her Great Lakes cities: Buffalo, where she began in the biz, and Detroit, where she made a life.

“The intensity of your affection for Buffalo gets stronger when you no longer live there,” she says. “I love it and still consider it home.”

Margolis majored in English at the University at Buffalo and started in broadcast at WKBW Radio; she believes she was the first full-time female news anchor there. Then she got a part-time gig at Channel 7, which meant working seven days a week.

“I loved it so much,” she says. “And I still love it. I need that shot of adrenaline of a daily deadline.”

Sherry Margolis on the air during her time at Eyewitness News

Soon Margolis got a full-time job at Channel 7. She was working there when she visited her friends Mitch Gerber and Ilene Reid in Florida. They had moved there after the Courier-Express folded to work for the Orlando Sentinel. Gerber was an editor for the Sentinel’s Sunday magazine and he invited his best writer, Jeffrey Zaslow, to a dinner party so he could meet Margolis.

“Jeff had a sarcastic sense of humor and he was making fun of TV news,” Margolis says. “You know what you print guys do. I was a little offended.”

Margolis and Zaslow next saw one another a couple of years later when Gerber and Reid got married.

Jeff Zaslow (News file photo)

“He was still sarcastic, but I guess I’d developed an appreciation for it,” Margolis says. “The planets aligned. He was so funny and so appealing.”

It was love at second sight – and they began long-distance dating from his home in Chicago, where he worked for the Wall Street Journal, to hers in Detroit. By the time they got married a couple of years later, they had racked up enough frequent-flier miles to cover the honeymoon.

At one point Zaslow wrote a story for the Journal about a contest to replace syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers. He entered it on a lark – and won. So he quit his job at the Journal and got interviewed on "Oprah" and "Good Morning America."

Margolis remembers him looking at letters to answer on their honeymoon. He was just 28, and when critics suggested he didn’t have enough life experience to offer sage advice, he would just say he had the wisdom of a 29-year-old.

Maybe he should have written a letter to himself asking how to make a marriage work when living in different cities. The answer came to him when Margolis was pregnant with their firstborn. Zaslow moved to Detroit on the theory he could dispense advice from anywhere.

He would eventually return to the Journal to write columns about people seeking meaning in their lives. One was on Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who was dying of pancreatic cancer and had one final, moving message for his students.

Zaslow, a Carnegie Mellon grad, wrote “The Last Lecture” with Pausch and it sold more than 5 million copies. He would go on to write books with Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a jet in the Hudson River, and Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who survived a mass shooting in which six others died.

Sherry Margolis in her Eyewitness News days, as a cartoon, through the eyes of artist Mike Ricigliano.

Margolis and Zaslow had three daughters — Jordan, Alexandra and Eden. Margolis says dinner conversations revolved around issues raised in their father’s writing and their mother’s broadcasting. Today all three daughters work in the communications field.

“It wasn’t like we were going to produce mathematicians,” Margolis says. “They are incredible, wonderful, kind, smart human beings. And I am so proud of them.”

Their father was, too. He dedicated his last book to them. “The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters,” tells the story of a family-run bridal shop in a small Michigan town set against a universal story of parental love for daughters.

Zaslow was returning from an event in northern Michigan promoting the book in February 2012 when his car collided with a semi-trailer on snow-covered roads. He died instantly.

Margolis returned to work three weeks later. She needed her TV family. She needed the adrenaline. “I needed to be me,” she says.

She didn’t speak about her loss on air in any detail then. But a few months ago she began a series for WJBK called Still Standing. It is about people who have absorbed terrible blows in their lives and keep on keeping on.

The first story was her own — not, she says, because hers is more important than anyone else’s, but because she felt she owed it to her viewers.

“Sadly, we all go through loss,” Margolis says. “Now I get to tell other people’s stories of resilience, the ability to withstand life’s challenges and keep going.”

Margolis has won Emmy Awards and Edward R. Murrow Awards and now the Buffalo Bob Smith Award, but this series about love and loss is perhaps the finest work of her fine career.

That kid at Will South who told Irv she was going to work with him someday? Yeah, she’s still got moxie.

 

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