Beloved WAFB anchor Donna Britt passes away

Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 5:35 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Longtime WAFB anchor Donna Britt, a dedicated journalist and beloved member of the community, has passed away after her courageous battle with ALS. Donna passed away on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

A married mother of two, she was a member of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge and the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. Her husband, Mark Ballard, serves as the Capitol Bureau Chief for The Advocate newspaper. Her two children include her daughter Annie and son Louis. She started at WAFB in 1980 as a news reporter. The WAFB news director at the time, Carlton Cremeens, heard Donna on the radio as a DJ and loved her voice. He called her in for an interview and hired her right away. She was eventually teamed up with George Sells and the two of them became one of the most successful news anchor teams in the country.

Donna announced her diagnosis to viewers during WAFB’s 6 p.m. newscast on July 27, 2017.

Donna Britt's last newscast - June 13, 2018 (end of show farewell)

“I’d like to share some personal news with you tonight,” Donna said. “I have ALS, Lou Gherig’s disease. For the last nine months, doctors have tried to diagnose it, however many of the symptoms are the same for other diseases. But three days of testing at Houston Methodist Hospital have removed doubts. So, now I know what’s been paralyzing muscles all over my body all these months and shows no signs of stopping,” she said.

Following her diagnosis, thousands of viewers and well-wishers showed up for “Donna Britt Day,” a charity event hosted by Chef John Folse to raise money for ALS research.

Donna retired from the station and anchored her last newscast nearly one year after publicly announcing her diagnosis. She signed off the air on June 13, 2018 after 38 years of service at WAFB.

She was born while her parents were in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft Worth Texas. Her mother trained for a ministry in church music. Her family moved as her father first preached in small-town Texas, then on to church fields in Georgia peanut country as well as along the Florida panhandle. When her father retired from the church ministry, the family continued to preach by rescuing failing churches. Donna played the piano and organ in multiple churches starting in the fourth grade. Over the years, she played for thousands of church services as well as hundreds of weddings and funerals.

In the eighth grade, an outstanding Bible teacher in Donna’s life told her how God had inspired her to sign her name in lower-case letters, an act of humility and a promise to always to push to achieve her best in everything. Donna adapted the same promise and always signed her name with lower-case letters, what she called a sign of continued commitment to “serve God in the most enthusiastic and excellent way possible.” Over the years, Donna supported numerous charities including those tied to research for ALS, Sickle Cell disease, HIV/AIDS and cancer. A breast cancer survivor, she was also very active with breast cancer fundraisers.

Donna served for 17 years on the Salvation Army’s Community Board. During that time, she spent 8 hours every week in December those 17 years manning a Christmas kettle.

Donna also served on boards for the Baranco-Clark YMCA, the Southern University Art Museum, the Baton Rouge Ballet Theater and the Louisiana Association for Arts in Education.

One of Donna’s biggest passions while at WAFB was her ten years as a volunteer at Progress Elementary School where she referred to herself as the school’s “library elf.” Every month, she decorated the school’s library with giant cardboard decorations she painted at home. She did different themes highlighting different kinds of books. She also sponsored a no-holds-barred ice cream sundae party every month to the class who read the most library books. The kids were told they could use the 20 or more toppings for their ice cream in an all—you-can-eat buffet. This launched such a voracious battle to win the party, that the school’s reading comprehension scores on standardized tests went up 4.7% the very first year and continually improved. DA popular local celebrity,

Donna rode in countless parades across South Louisiana. She reigned as Queen of Spanish Town in 1990.Another big passion for Donna was her service to the Boy Scouts. She attended numerous scouting Camporees and was fiercely proud of carrying a canoe over mountains and paddling the Northern Tier Extreme Boy Scout Adventure on America’s Northern border. She physically trained on an elliptical machine for two months, morning and evening, to build her stamina for the grueling push.

Donna loved to travel and she and her family saw much of the world together.

Donna’s husband, Mark Ballard, says her family was by her side as she passed away peacefully Thursday morning. Because of concerns about COVID-19, the family plans to wait to hold a memorial service for Donna at a later date, he said.

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