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Susan White-Bowden, longtime WMAR-TV personality, dies

Susan White-Bowden, longtime WMAR-TV personality, dies
Susan White-Bowden, a longtime WMAR-TV reporter, died Friday at 79. (Family photo)

Susan White-Bowden, a popular Baltimore television reporter who had been a mainstay of WMAR-TV during the late 1960s through the 1980s, and whose stories highlighted the lives of ordinary Marylanders, died early Friday morning at the Hedges, her longtime Finksburg home, from complications of a fall.

She was 79.

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A former model, Ms. White-Bowden spent more than two decades at WMAR, where she was a reporter, anchor, news writer and producer.

“I’d call Susan a pioneer. She was the first female TV reporter in Baltimore and blazed the trail for a lot of women behind her,” said Charles Horich, who was vice president of news and programming at Channel 2 from 1976 to 1982.

“People liked Susan. She could cover hard news or talk to ordinary people who did extraordinary things,” Mr. Horich said. “She did a feature, ‘Open Road,’ where she traveled throughout Maryland listening to ordinary people tell their stories, and she did them extremely well.”

Richard Sher, a former WJZ-TV personality, working there for 33 years before retiring in 2008, and currently the moderator of “Square Off” on Channel 2, is a longtime close friend of Ms. White-Bowden.

“Susan was a broadcasting pioneer, always moving ahead, proving that television was no longer for men,” Mr. Sher said.

The former Susan Scheid, was born in Baltimore and raised in Pikesville, the daughter of Dr. Howard Scheid, a dentist, and his wife, Betty Scheid, a Goucher College professor.

She was a 1957 graduate of Milford Mill High School and graduated in 1963 from Walter’s Academy, a Howard Street modeling school.

By the mid 1960s, Ms. White-Bowden was appearing in TV commercials that were produced in Baltimore, and later became a regular on the old Jack Wells morning show on Channel 11 modeling dresses.

She appeared in “commercials for bread, beer, oleomargarine, hair dryers, a supermarket chain and the Internal Revenue Service,” wrote Baltimore Sun TV critic Bill Hyder in a 1965 Baltimore Sun TV Week article.

In a 1968 Sun interview, Ms. White-Bowden explained that she broke into TV news via the “back door.”

She did features first briefly for WBAL, and after doing several stories for WMAR, she was told by station executives she “showed promise,” she said.

“I’ve really had to learn the business from scratch. Both Dave Stickle [WMAR news director] and George Rogers [assistant news director] have had to give me ‘on the job training.’ They have been a tremendous help,” she explained.

Ms. White-Bowden became Channel 2’s first full-time news reporter when she was hired by the station in 1967.

It wasn’t long before the ebullient blonde with a wide and welcoming smile who favored mini-dresses found a devoted and loyal audience of viewers was being promoted with ads in The Sun proclaiming, “Susan White … Girl on the GO.”

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“She worked hard on her stories and stayed with them as long as it took to get them,” Mr. Horich said. “Plus, she had relationships with all kinds of people including people in high places, like William Donald Schaefer, who always picked up the phone whenever she called.”

“One of her segments was called ‘Susan’s People,’ and most of Baltimore considered themselves part of that group,” Andy Barth, a former Channel 2 reporter, wrote in an email.

“She was there when I came in 1970,” Mr. Barth, who left WMAR in 2005 and later was Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman’s press secretary, said in a telephone interview.

“Susan was the brightest star on Baltimore TV for many years, and a terrific reporter. She was the person you’d want to tell your story,” Mr. Barth wrote. “She had a magic presence that lit up a screen or a private conversation, making you like and respect her, want to confide in her, and feel lucky to have her as a friend.”

Mark Vernarelli became acquainted with Ms.White-Bowden when he interned at WMAR in 1982 and was later hired as an assignment editor in 1982, becoming a reporter in 1988. He is now director of Community Engagement at Maryland Safety and Correctional Services.

“God placed Susan in my life at a critical time, when I was just beginning my television news career,” wrote Mr. Vernarelli in an email.

“When I was behind the scenes, and later, she faithfully looked at my tapes and encouraged me, complimenting me on my writing ability and giving me the motivation to keep pushing,” he wrote.“Later, I was blessed to actually work with her. Susan was kind, decent, with no pretense at all.”

“She was an adviser and mentor to hundreds of us in TV,” Mr. Barth wrote. “She was smart and kind and tough and funny, and a role model for women trying to break into TV.”

George Stover, a veteran Channel 2 cameraman, worked closely for years with Ms. Bowden-White, who often said he was her favorite cameraman.

“What made Susan great was her ability to put people at ease, because she was a kind and giving person, and because she was that way, she got people to tell her their stories,” he said. “It was something special. And when we were working in the field, she’d just look at me, and I knew what she wanted. It was quite a journey.”

During her career she was the recipient of many awards for her work from the Associated Press, United Press International and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Ms. White-Bowden also suffered two searing personal tragedies.

After having lost her first husband, John O’Donnell White, in 1974, and her son, Jody White in 1977, both to suicide, Ms. White-Bowden wrote “Everything to Live For,” and became a nationally known speaker on youth suicide prevention, surviving loss, self-esteem and media relations.

She has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Phil Donahue Show,” “Good Morning America,” and “Regis and Kathie Lee,” and many other nationally broadcast TV shows. She also testified before Congress and the Maryland General Assembly on youth suicide prevention and gun abuse.

In 1979, she married Jack Bowden, the WMAR news anchor and reporter.

“We decided to put Jack and Susan together as the noon anchor team, which was the only one such team in the country,” Mr. Horich said.

A 1981 Sun article said, “It may surprise some people, but the hottest personalities on Baltimore television right now are Jack Bowden and Susan White-Bowden, the husband-and-wife co-anchor team on Channel 2’s Noon News.”

“They exemplified genuine love on and off television, as one of the very rare husband-wife, co-anchor teams. Two of the reasons why Channel 2 did so well,” Mr. Sher said. “Now, they are together once again anchoring the news on WGOD.”

After her husband left WMAR in a contract dispute in 1988, she remained another year, leaving in 1989.

She established White-Bowden Associates, a publishing and distribution company, and wrote “Susan’s People,” a weekly Sunday column that was published in The Carroll County Sun.

She was the author of several other books and also taught writing at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University and Towson University.

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Ms. White-Bowden who lived at The Hedges, the Carroll County farm her grandfather purchased in the early 1930s, enjoyed spending summers at Silver Lake, adjacent to Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Plans for a memorial gathering to be held this summer are incomplete.

She is survived by two daughters, Marjorie Miller White of Finksburg and Ada O’Donnell White Boone of Murrells Inlet, S.C.; a brother, Charles Scheid of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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