Friends, colleagues, viewers remember WAFB legend Paul Gates

Friends, colleagues, viewers remember WAFB legend Paul Gates

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As one of the younger members of the WAFB family, I never got the opportunity to work alongside Paul Gates.

My career at WAFB began one year after his departure from the desk, but I knew who Paul was. Every reporter new and old at Channel 9 knew.

I had not been working at the station long when Paul d ropped by for a visit. Baseball cap on with a goofy smile that immediately made you smile back, Paul walked around the newsroom chatting with his former colleagues.

One of the managers at the time leaned over to tell me that he was the Paul Gates, the original investigative reporter, the best.

"Watch his stories," I was told. "You'll learn a lot."

RELATED: Beloved WAFB anchor Paul Gates passes away at age 69

Even on 4:3 video, Paul filled the screen. I had never seen someone so politely tenacious. In those reports he never raised his voice, just asked for the truth.

I had a hard time reconciling the man full of jokes I met and the hard-nosed reporter I watched. I doubted I could ever report like that.

Five years after he retired, Paul's career and legacy still loom over every story, every person who dares to pick up his mantel. In the corner of the newsroom his desk file and awards are a constant reminder of the quality of work he produced.

It's that legacy that impacted everyone who knew him.

RELATED: Paul Gates 1946 - 2016

"He had quality about him, and I don't think I've ever seen it in another broadcaster, where he would strike fear into those who were doing wrong and make those who were just and right laugh and smile," said former reporter and anchor Avery Davidson.

Davidson worked closely with Paul for years, producing his weekend newscast and shooting his investigative reports. He was behind the lens of some of Paul's most infamous reports, including one in which Paul had public documents ripped from his hands and Davidson shoved.

Davidson said there were several times he thought things were getting too dangerous. During one report on insurance fraud along False River, the photographer thought the man they were interviewing was getting a gun. While Davidson retreated to the car, Paul stood calmly at the door, never worried. They finished the report without incident, or firearms.

"He wanted to know everything we could about a story. It was very sincere, almost childlike. It was such a good quality to have as an investigative journalist because you kept asking questions until you understand it," said Davidson.

Sylvia Weatherspoon, now the evening anchor at WBRZ, began her work in television at WAFB next to Paul. She said he was one of the first people to help and guide her. She believes he had a big hand in shaping her career.

"He would always say, 'Own the story. You have to convince the folks that you know what you're talking about,'" said Weatherspoon.

As a sidekick to Louisiana Chef John Folse, viewers saw Paul cut loose with now legendary antics. Part comedy and part cooking, the biweekly segment was a winning recipe. It was also a life changing experience for the famed Chef who estimates they filmed 1,000 shows together over a decade.

"I never dreamed that a guy from North Louisiana, a newsman, a special investigative reporter would change the way I thought about cooking," Folse said. "I was a serious, serious cook until I met Paul and Paul made me realize it's just food. I love him for that and I miss him every day."

As a patient of Alzheimer's, Paul shared a more vulnerable side by going public with his family's medical journey and struggle. Many viewers who suffered from the disease or had loved ones suffering from the disease related to Paul on a new level.

"At the end, he was as courageous in his fight against Alzheimer's as he was an investigative reporter," said former 9News medical reporter Phil Rainier. "To make the decision, he and Michele, to go public and to let people know what it's like to go through the ravages of this disease. I admired that."

Online tributes from viewers, colleagues long gone and three Louisiana Governors poured out.

"Anchor Paul Gates was one of the finest men I ever worked alongside," tweeted national sports commentator Tim Brando.

"Paul Gates was one of a kind and his legacy will always stand apart in journalism," wrote current Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

With so many stories and so many memories, all that's left to say is that Paul Gates will be sorely missed and never replaced.

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