J. Michael Early, longtime WWL-TV president and general manager, dies at 99

J. Michael Early, who guided WWL-TV to decades of ratings dominance as president and general manager during a broadcasting career that spanned the early 1960s to the late 1990s, died Wednesday (Aug. 26). He was 99.

In an August 1998 story marking Mr. Early’s retirement from the station at age 82, Times-Picayune TV columnist Mark Lorando described him as “a revered figure not only in New Orleans but the TV business as a whole.”

For 27 of the 37 years Mr. Early managed the station, “WWL has had one position in the ratings: first place, a dominance that is universally attributed to Early’s loyalty inspiring leadership, uncanny programming instincts and people skills, and unwavering commitment to local newscasting excellence,” Lorando wrote.

“Mr. Early” is this publication’s style on secondary references to an obituary subject, but it was the only way he was known to his staffers �- a measure of their respect, bordering on reverence, for him even long after his retirement.

“There was not a person in the building that referred to him any other way, whether it was (star anchors) Garland Robinette or Angela Hill or production assistants,” said Keith Esparros, WWL’s news director, who started his broadcast-news career answering phones at the station in 1980 then moved on to newsmanagement jobs there, at WVUE and stations in San Diego and Los Angeles before returning earlier this year.

“More than anyone I have ever encountered in this business, Mr. Early was incredibly  successful at creating the culture here that excellence was simply expected, and that you would be excellent and you would succeed if you followed the WWL way,” he said.

“When you walked in this building, you realized you were on this big team and that no one here was going to let the team down,” Espartos said. “That was just the culture. No one told you this was what was expected. It almost just oozed through the walls, and it was directly from him.”

Tod Smith, WWL’s president and general manager, also started on the ground floor at the station, working stints there in the 1980s and 1990s before returning as general manager of WWL and sister station, WUPL-TV, in 2012.

“I have never seen somebody who just personified leadership the way he did,” Smith said. “Totally unselfish. It was always about WWL-TV and its people, never about him. “It was a marvel to watch him manage.”

A New Orleans native, John Michael Early was a Jesuit High School graduate who received undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola University.

After working for two decades as a lawyer, he started his broadcasting career at age 45, when WWL’s then-owners, the Jesuits of Loyola, gave him management of the local CBS affiliate at a time when local NBC affiliate WDSU was the legacy local ratings champion. WWL’s broadcast partners at the time were WWL AM-870 and WLMG FM- 101.9.

Mr. Early eventually led WWL-TV to a ratings winning streak unparalleled in the TV industry, which continues today. According to WWL’s obituary, awards won by the station during his time there included two national Edward R. Murrow Awards for overall excellence, and five George Foster Peabody Awards.

In that time, WWL reporters traveled internationally to cover news of importance to local viewers, and WWL newscasts featured daily editorials written and distinctively delivered by Phil Johnson.

Personal honors included 1993 induction into the New Orleans Broadcasting Hall of Fame, a Press Club of New Orleans Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, and Jesuit High School’s 1990 Alumnus of the Year, the station said.

One of the keys to Mr. Early’s success was a remarkable eye for news talent.

“If he had been an NFL general manager, he certainly would already be in the Hall of Fame,” Smith said. “When you think about the people who’ve come through here …”

Smith began to list names — Hill, Robinette, Hoda Kotb, Chris Myers -� then stopped. “The list goes on and on,” he said.

Sally-Ann Roberts and Eric Paulsen, mainstays of WWL’s longtime ratings-juggernaut morning newscasts, were hired by Mr. Early within days of each other in 1977.

Hill, who worked as a reporter and anchor at the station for nearly four decades before her 2013 retirement, was hired at WWL in 1975 after Early traveled to Harlingen, Texas, to watch her work on the air there. He carried video equipment on his trip, taped  her performance on a 10 p.m. newscast, then returned to New Orleans, she said.

Hill did not hear the story until the end of a later eight-hour job interview with Early and Johnson, then the station’s news director.

“He didn’t send someone,” Hill said. “He wanted to see for himself.”

Mr. Early had “instinctive feelings about people, allowing them to be who they were,” Hill said. “There was something magical about him about the understanding of television and the audience.”

To Hill, his defining moment at WWL was when Loyola decided to sell the station in the late 1980s and he engineered a rare employee-ownership deal, creating Rampart Broadcasting, a reference to the station’s longtime French Quarter location, where his portrait was installed in 2013.

Elevating station employees into shareholders demonstrated “his fight and tenacity once Loyola decided to sell,” Hill said. “To save it and the employees was his defining thing.”

The station was later sold to Belo Corp., then Gannett, the broadcasting division of which is known as TEGNA.

“He had an enormous family,” Hill said, “But his really enormous family was all of us he picked up along the way.”

His wife of more than 65 years, Leah Cohen Early, died in 2006.

Survivors include four sons, Mike, Robert, and Brian Early, all of New Orleans, and Thomas Early of Folsom; six daughters, Leah Held, Maureen Dehon, Colleen Hoover, Kathleen DeVaughn and Patricia Laird, all of New Orleans, and Therese Larrabee of St. Paul, Minn.; a brother, Judge Thomas Early of New Orleans; a sister, Jacqueline Garic of Folsom; 30 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren.

A Mass will be said Tuesday (Sept. 1) at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, 3368 Esplanade Ave. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. Burial will be private.

Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Dr. Dexter A. Gary Obituary

Dr. Dexter Allen Gary was born in Kaplan, Louisiana on July 14, 1941 to Wanda Louise Mouton, who preceded her son in death, and Roland Allen Gary. He passed away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on August 5, 2015 at the age of 74, just 5 weeks after the passing of his beloved wife, Sandra Girouard Gary. The couple knew each other before first grade and had been married for 52 years. Dr. Dexter Gary was a brilliant scholar, decorated soldier, outstanding athlete, excellent physician philanthropist, and in retirement, a horseman. His many accomplishments are renowned and far too numerous to list. In death, as in life, he would not want to be remembered for the many awards or titles that were bestowed upon him for his service. Rather he would want to be remembered as “Big D”, a man who understood that the best and most beautiful things cannot be bought or possessed, but must be shared and felt with the heart. Big D was a loving son, grandson, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather and friend. He was a gregarious gentleman who always showed up with something special “just because”, and never left before giving the true gift of the love in his heart. He had a zest for life in doing the simplest tasks to the most complicated. He gave his best effort whether fixing a door knob or replacing a patient’s hip. He will be remembered for his willingness to help and serve others in any capacity without complaint. There was a simple joy in his essence that he shared with everyone he met, and it seemed as though the more joy he brought to others, the more it returned to him. His constant smile, contagious laugh and sense of humor will be missed dearly. We will forever cherish the wisdom and sentiments he expressed in numerous letters and cards, as well as the memories of countless beautiful and personal moments we shared. Known for his ease in conversation with strangers, as well as his friends and family, Big D won the trust and hearts of everyone around him. So great was his servant’s spirit, that all who witnessed it were blessed by it and were forever changed. The world lost one of Christ’s true soldiers in Big D’s passing, but his work touched many and his spirit lives on. Big D lived with incredible passion and Big D left this life with even more. After the recent passing of his dear “Sugar”, he felt immense grief but demonstrated an even greater expression of hope and faith. While those of us left behind are sad, we feel blessed to have witnessed such deep and everlasting love. We miss you too, Big D, more than words, but we find tremendous consolation and happiness in knowing that you and Sugar are united again. Dr. Dexter Gary’s surviving family members include his cherished children and their spouses: Angela and Mickey Guidry; Dexter Anthony and Roslyn Gary; and Roland Allen II and Jenny Gary. His 11 adoring grandchildren: Therese, Gabrielle, and Rhett Guidry; Dexter Andrew, Jordan, Christian, and Tysen Gary; Rowan and Arden Whitehurst; Kayleigh and Roland Allen Gary III – for each of whom Big D was their biggest fan. His dear father, Roland Allen Gary; and cherished younger brother, Paul Brent Gary, wife Liz and their family; the Thompson and Matthews’ families; his treasured mother-in-law, Frances Broussard Girouard, who loved him as her son, and her family. Also, many more beloved in-laws, nieces, nephews, god-children, cousins and dear friends that shared special bonds, holidays, life’s celebrations and many LSU football games with Sugar and Big D. They were, simply put, “the heart and soul” of us all. Please join us for their Memorial Service on Saturday August 29, 2015 at 10:30 am at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, 2251 Main Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70802. We are deeply thankful for the outpouring of prayers and support as we mourn the unspeakable loss of both Sandra and Dexter, but more importantly, we ask you to help us spread their legacy of service, love and joy.
Published in TheAdvocate.com from Aug. 22 to Aug. 29, 2015

Former President of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association Dr. Dexter Gary passed away on Wednesday August 5th, a few weeks after his beloved wife Sandra who died on June 28th. Dexter served thirteen years as a Member of the Board of Directors of the LTBA, two of those years as President. Dexter made a lasting impression on everyone he met, and that will not soon be forgotten. The LTBA would like to say thank you, and May God Bless Dexter, Sandra, and the entire Gary family.

Former President of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association Dr. Dexter Gary passed away on Wednesday August 5th, a few weeks after his beloved wife Sandra who died on June 28th. Dexter served thirteen years as a Member of the Board of Directors of the LTBA, two of those years as President. Dexter made a lasting impression on everyone he met, and that will not soon be forgotten. The LTBA would like to say thank you, and May God Bless Dexter, Sandra, and the entire Gary family.

2015 Louisiana Cup Day Winners

The Pickett Factor F

The Pickett Factor (Gold Tribute – Dynaspice, by Dynaformer)
Super Derby Prelude S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $100,000, 3 yo, 1 1/16 miles, 1:44.42, Fast
B: E. O. Pickett
O: Melissa Cantacuzene
T: Ralph R. Irwin
J: Donnie J. Meche
Allied Air Raid (Midshipman – Stake, by Boundary), 2nd
Mobile Bay (Lone Star Special – Tranquility Bay, by Out of Place), 3rd
Margins: 1�, head, 5�
Others: Fusaichi Flame ($6,000), Lucky Stranger ($3,000), Holiday Man, Four Leaf Chief, Bubba Roan

Flower Lady F

Flower Lady (Flower Alley – Weepnomoremylady, by Summer Squall)
Louisiana Cup Distaff S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $75,000, 3 yo’s & up, Fillies and Mares, 1 1/16 miles, 1:42.83, Firm
B: Allen Guillotte Jr.
O: Jackie Barberito
T: Ricky Courville
J: Jose Riquelme
Pacific Pink (Private Vow – Truly Romantic, by Robyn Dancer), 2nd
Glamoride (Ide – Driven, by Forestry) 3rd
Margins: �, �, 1
Others: All Woman ($4,500), Long Lost Friend ($2,250), Devil’s Backbone, Zara Lauren, Heatseeker Sharon, Private Promise

Icy Gentleman F

Icy Gentleman (Yankee Gentleman – Icy Day, by Five Star Day)
Louisiana Cup Juvenile S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $50,000, 2 yo, 6 furlongs, 1:11.82, Fast
B: Ironwater Farms Joint Venture
O: Ironwater Farms Joint Venture
T: Henry B. Johnson, Jr.
J: Hector Del-Cid
Cale’s Gold (Gold Tribute – Estella Ella, by Lion Heart) 2nd
Wonder Run (Run Production – Gal Wonder, by Three Wonders) 3rd
Margins: neck, 1, nose
Others: Berniestrike ($3,000), Il Est Beau ($1,500), Hunker Down, Bill’s Production, Steppin’ Outonher, Hunsa’s Magic, Won Again

String King F

String King (Crowned King – String Dancer, by Fly a Kite (IRE)
Louisiana Cup Turf Classic S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $75,000, 3 yo’s & up, 1 1/16 miles, 1:41.97, Firm
B: Charlie Smith
O: Charles Craig Smith
T: Charles Craig Smith
J: Richard E. Eramia
Well’s Gold (Gold Tribute – Lucky Buck’s Baby, by Spend a Buck) 2nd
Big Dog Doug (Ole Rebel – Special Love, by River Special) 3rd
Margins: 4, nose, 1�
Others: Hot Zapper ($4,500), Tee Brown ($2,250), Hopeful Notion, Heavy On Themister, Fort Wagner, Hail to the Nile

Warrens Rebel F

Warren’s Rebel (Ole Rebel – Gayle’s Approval, by With Approval)
Louisiana Cup Sprint S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $50,000, 3 yo’s & up, 6 furlongs, 1:09.97, Fast
B: Dr. Glen Warren
O: Glen C. Warre
T: Andrew Leggio, Jr.
J: Luis A. Batista
All About Interest (Interest Rate – Keen About You, by Flying Continental), 2nd
Skip the Pinot (G. W.’s Skippie – Pinot Pals, by Pulling Punches), 3rd
Margins: 2, neck, 1�
Others: Top Cat Boogie ($3,000), Too Dim ($1,500), Smudge, Salute the C.

Another Pinot F

Another Pinot (B. J.’s Mark – Pinot Pals, by Pulling Punches)
Louisiana Cup Filly and Mare Sprint S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $50,000, 3 yo’s & up, Fillies and Mares, 6 furlongs, 1:11.02, Fast
B: Dr. Glen Warren DVM & Andy Leggio
O: Warren, Glen and Leggio, Jr., Andrew
T: Andrew Leggio, Jr.
J: Luis A. Batista
Aliana (Majestic Warrior – Lake Como, by Salt Lake), 2nd
Persuade Me Lady (Lydgate – Holy Love, by Holy Bull) 3rd
Margins: 1, �, 1
Others: Afternoon Tango ($3,000), Catherine’s Dream ($1,500), Rebel Woman

Cajun Conoseir-F

Cajun Conoseir (Closing Argument – Midsummer Fun, by Gone West)
Louisiana Cup Juvenile Fillies S., Louisiana Downs, Stakes, $50,000, 2 yo, Fillies, 6 furlongs, 1:11.89, Fast
B: Circle H Farms & Carrol J. Castille
O: Whispering Oaks Farm LLC
T: Steven B. Flint
J: Gerard Melancon
Social Factor (Read the Footnotes – So Social, by Proud Truth), 2nd
Dreamofhonor (Magna Graduate – I Dream of Erica, by Affirmed), 3rd
Margins: 8�, 2�, 2�
Others: Wild Appointment ($3,000), Holiday Song ($1,500), Bizzarrini, Halfandtwoquarters, Charlie’s Pal, Custom for Chloe

Custom For Carlos had his First 2-yo Winner at EVD on July 30, 2015

Freshman sire Custom For Carlos had his first Two-Year-Old winner Thursday night at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas when his son Customizer led from start to finish and widened on the field in the stretch to cross the finish line ten and quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival. His time for the five furlong event was a respectable 58:56. Customizer was bred in Louisiana by Perry Segura, who is the only living original incorporator of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Mr. Segura sold Customizer to Set-Hut, LLC (Jake Delhomme) at the Breeders’ Sales Company of Louisiana Annual Yearling Sale in West Monroe, La last year. He is trained by Jake’s father, Jerry Delhomme.

Custom For Carlos, a son of More Than Ready, registered triple digit Beyer figures five times in his race career that included wins in the Bet On Sunshine Handicap, Jersey Shore Stakes (GIII), Count Fleet Handicap (GIII) and the Mr. Prospector Stakes (GIII). His yearlings and Two-Year-Olds have been well received both locally in Louisiana and elsewhere throughout the country.

Custom For Carlos stands at Clear Creek Stud for a fee of $3,000 payable September 1st of the year bred. Look for his yearlings at the Breeders Sale Company Annual Yearling Sale in West Monroe on September 29th or come by the farm to see them before the sale. Contact us at the farm at 985-796-5563 or email us at info@clearcreekstud.com

Val Murrell

(985) 796-5563