It can be tough to fool an investigative journalist.
But friends, family and colleagues of CBS News Chicago (WBBM) investigative reporter Dorothy Tucker were familiar with her knack for spotting a ruse. They made sure their plan to surprise Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, was flawless.
The occasion: Tucker’s 45th anniversary as a journalist. After Tucker’s graduation from Northwestern University with honors, she embarked on a career that has included stints at KWGN in Denver, WREG in Memphis and KDKA in Pittsburgh — not to mention 38 years at WBBM and the creation of this news organization. Tucker’s fans wanted to honor her longevity in a business that is hard on Black women.
“It is incredible that she has been performing at such a high level for so many years,” NABJ Executive Director Drew Berry told NABJ Black News & Views. “She’s a role model that many young journalists should emulate,” he said.
“I am in continuous awe of the energy that my wife gives to and gets from being a mom and a journalist,” Tucker’s husband, Tony Wilkins, told NABJ BNV. “She goes all in on both and everyone involved winds up being better for it.”
The surprise plan came about after Wilkins alerted NABJ about the anniversary. Was it hard surprising someone who grills everyone she knows and walks around with receipts in her pockets?
“Hell yes,” Wilkins said. “Her investigative instincts are always on full blast. Fortunately, everyone who knows her knows that. So, going in, our team of conspirators kept throwing her off the trail every step of the way, from fake Facebook posts to fake NABJ crises. She’s still trying to figure out what she missed.”
The big event took place on Oct. 22 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, where the NABJ Board of Directors was meeting. Berry whispered to Tucker about a made-up emergency while a crowd gathered behind her. Among those in the group: Tucker’s longtime friend Rehema Ellis, an NBC correspondent, Allison Davis, an NABJ founder and television executive, Joe Davidson, an NABJ founder and columnist with the Washington Post, Wilkins, and her father, Ernest Tucker.
As Berry explained the made-up disaster, Tucker suggested to him that they leave the room to discuss it. As she rose and turned, she came face-to-face with the group. She jumped in surprise, and a second later, as she realized what was happening, she hugged her father.
Tucker then shared words of wisdom carved over a 45-year career: “Ya’ll are wrong!”
Later, on a more serious note, Tucker told NABJ BNV, “I actually saw my good friends Rehema Ellis and Allison Davis first and I was completely confused as to why they were there. It was when I saw my father that I knew something special was going on but I was still clueless. Then I spotted my husband and everyone shouted, ‘Happy 45th anniversary.’ At that point I was so touched I couldn’t hold back the tears.”
Once Wilkins alerted NABJ about the anniversary, NABJ staff, the Board of Directors and Tucker’s family and friends got to organizing. Allison Davis worked on a commemorative film for the event. She borrowed audio of Tucker telling her life story for a Northwestern University project and used that as a track. Davis also found photos and video of Tucker through the years, dating back to her youth in Chicago, and interviewed those closest to her. The result was a film that brought Tucker to tears.
“I was overcome with emotion,” Tucker told NABJ BNV. “Allison’s production skills are unmatched. I was in awe of the way she used MY voice to tell MY story and then weaved in tributes from long time friends and NABJ family. It was fabulous. I was sitting there thinking how blessed I am to have a beautiful family, great friends and the support of NABJ.”
Davis told BNV that the feeling is mutual about Tucker.
“Through the many years, our personal and professional lives have intersected quite frequently,” Davis said. “I preceded Dorothy at KDKA in Pittsburgh and we both became working mothers of boys within just a few short years of one another. Through the many decades, Dorothy and I have remained great friends and I’m so proud of her many accomplishments both off and on the air. Her membership in NABJ almost equals her 45 years in the business and her impact on NABJ over these decades has been immeasurable. As a founder, I am truly grateful for her hard work and devotion to our beloved organization and I am proud to call my president and friend.”
As for Tucker, known for encouraging young people and surrounding herself with young journalists, she wants those entering the business to remember they have a commitment to serving their audience.
“As journalists we’re here to educate the public, hold the powerful accountable and expose inequities in our society,” Tucker told NABJ BNV. “I believe we have an added responsibility as Black journalists. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to always fight for fair, accurate and specifically non-stereotypical portrayals of Black Americans in the communities you serve.”