Pure in Heart
by Elizabeth Skenes Millen Photography by Christian Lee
Hair and Makeup Courtesy of Kay Cantrell, Owner, Let it Blow Dry Bar, Savannah
Everyone knows Tina Tyus-Shaw. She’s been the main news anchor on WSAV in Savannah for more than 20 years. As expected with that kind of longevity, she’s seen quite a few co-anchors come and go in the hot seat beside her, but she’s managed to keep her seat warm, which matches her heart perfectly.
Raised in Griffin, Georgia, Tina is the oldest of 12 children, a position she doesn’t take lightly. “It taught me to be a leader and be strong and how to love more. I adore them all,” she said, giving her parents credit for the close family bond that glues this large, blended family together. “My parents are genuinely good people.”
As Tina and I talk, it becomes obvious she is driven, she is real and she is pure in heart. As beautiful as Tina is in front of the camera, there is even more beauty radiating on the inside. As she tells her story over our enjoyable three-hour cup of coffee, she bares her soul, unveils her strength and allows me to discover her grit and vulnerabilities. A couple of things reveal themselves during out conversation: 1. Perseverance is her middle name; and 2. Tina doesn’t forget anyone.
A sports lover from a tot, Tina had a dream of following in her Aunt Wyomia’s footsteps. Wyomia Tyus was the first athlete to win gold medals in the 100-yard dash in consecutive Olympics. At one time she was the fastest woman in the world. Tina began pushing herself to excel from a young age and has truly never stopped.
“I went to Tennessee State University to follow in her footsteps. I wanted to run for her Olympic Coach Ed Temple. I was pretty good in track and field and was a walk-on. My goal was to be able to learn from Coach Temple and get techniques—not to be the best, but to learn. My nickname was Rabbit. I was so fast, my granddad named me that and said I would twinkle my nose. I got the opportunity to run for the Tigerbelles women’s track team. Coach made us wear weighted converse. He would spread out 10 milk crates for us to jump over like kangaroos. I was slow. I knew it, and he knew it. He said, “Child, you are slow as death, and your aunt was as fast as lightning. That was the day I knew I wasn’t going back. I wasn’t hurt. I knew I was no superstar, but I’ve always believed in myself. And Coach Temple believed in me, too. He would say, ‘This kid—she’s going to shine. She wants to run. She’s going to sparkle with the education she’s getting and be a star in her own way.’” Instead of quitting the team, Tina travelled with the team as water girl, helping wherever she could and supporting her teammates. When most would have cut all ties because of a hurt ego, Tina kept showing up.
One of the most refreshing and telling qualities about Tina is her humbleness. She told me upfront she is a team player. “There is no “I” in team,” she said. As she recounted her career path in trying to break into the world of television news, her stories were more about the people who helped her a long the way, than they were about the opportunities that lead her to where she is today. I was amazed that each step started and ended with a person’s first and last name. She remembers everyone who ever gave her a glimmer of hope and is thankful for all of it, regardless of the outcome.
I noticed her attitude has no place for bitterness or regret. She took a job as a receptionist at a television station in Macon, Georgia, to get her foot in the door, hoping to work her way into the newsroom. She approached the news director and offered to work (after work) for free just to get a chance. He welcomed her in but never offered her an opportunity beyond the receptionist’s chair. Her career twisted and turned from one station to the next, a jaunt into radio, a quick spin in retail management and back into television. “It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you bounce back. The best is yet to come. There have been some bests and there will be more,” she said.
When you see a beautiful, talented, solid woman such as Tina, holding a position as main news anchor on a successful news channel, the difficult path it took to get there doesn’t show. Tina has had bumps, hurdles, obstacles and rainouts. Her biggest battle came 16 years ago when her twin boys were still born half way through her pregnancy. “Our hello was goodbye,” she said through mounting tears. “We (referring to her husband James) went through darkness. We didn’t know when we would see the light. It is life changing and traumatic. It is always with you,” she said.
One of her goals is to help those who have a difficult time healing after loss. ”It is an emotional rollercoaster. Talking about it offers some sense of relief,” she said. Tina was asked to participate in an anthology entitled, “Shift Happens.” It’s about how we can help others, basically about the spirit of life. “There’s no difference in us. Sometimes you have to say, ‘help me.’ Resilience has made a difference in my life.” This year Tina is honored to be the Co-Chairman of the 2018 March for Babies. “This is another opportunity for me and my husband to honor our twins, our angels,” she said.
Some people look forward, some people look back, but Tina Tyus-Shaw looks up. She looks there for spiritual guidance, with the firm belief that the sky’s the limit. With her feet firmly planted down on earth and her heart and eye on the sky, Tina summed it up in telling me, “It’s important to remember people. To notice who has helped me, and don’t forget who they are. NEVER forget where you came from. I love my small, country town of Griffin, my parents, my family. I’m just going to be who I am, a woman who is willing to reach as many as possible to help them shine.
Family is Everything: Husband James; Daughter Celine, who Tina calls her miracle child because she was born at only 30 weeks. Celine means moonlight; Adult step-children, who Tina loves like her own: Chauncey, Courtney and Dana.
Walk with Tina: Saturday, April 28, 2018 9:00 a.m. www.marchforbabies.org/EventInfo?EventID=19415 Call 912-354-5900 for more information.
Watch Tina: Tune into WSAV Channel 3 Weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 and at 10:00 p.m. on the CW.
Words to live by: “You have to be pure in heart. The pure in heart survives.
Making a Difference: Tina has a program called “Owning the Stage” she shares with 8th and 9th graders at Savannah State University's Talent Search Program every summer. This program gives kids “golden nuggets” to go to the next “stage” of their lives.
Recent Scare: “I’m quite lucky to be alive. I had to have emergency surgery last fall. My appendix had wrapped around my colon and was about to rupture. It was the worst pain.
Best Career Moment: “I got to cover Nelson Mandela’s visit to Atlanta. This is a time in my life I realized everything I’d gone through set me up for this exact moment.”
Never Stop: Learning. Life is a good teacher. Learn something every day.
Coming Full Circle: She was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Savannah when the Olympics were in Atlanta. “It was an exhilarating experience, and Aunt Wyomia carried the torch through Griffin. This was the epitome of American spirit. Pride, hope for the little ones to be an Olympian. Don’t ever give up your dreams.”