A crowd of prominent Atlantans flocked to the Fox Theatre Wednesday night to salute veteran news anchor Monica Pearson as she prepares to sign off for good.
Oprah Winfrey made a surprise appearance by video to wish Pearson well.
“Monica, hey! I hear you are retiring,” Winfrey said during the video clip. “I am really so very proud of you. I bow to you. Congratulations.”
Nancy O’Dell from “Entertainment Tonight” also appeared by video clip.
“We want to join your friends in Atlanta in wishing you the very best,” she said.
The black-tie event was emceed by “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, whose participation also was a surprise.
“You are an amazing woman, Monica,” she said. “I love how much you’re enjoying yourself tonight.”
Pearson retires later this month after 37 years. Her dedication in the newsroom has been paralleled by her devotion to charitable causes and volunteering efforts in Atlanta. The evening featured the presentation of an oversized check for $37,000, reflecting her tenure, to Senior Citizens Services (now known as Meals on Wheels Atlanta) in her honor. The long list of notable guests turning out for the Wednesday event included Martin Luther King III, his wife Arndrea and his aunt Christine King Farris; former DeKalb County CEO Liane Levetan, Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, Rutherford and Laura Turner Seydel, Judge Glenda Hatchett, V103’s Frank Ski and his wife Tanya Rodriguez, and former Mayor Andy Young and Carolyn Young.
During the cocktail hour Andy Young applauded Pearson’s aplomb over the years.
“I think she is one of the few people – maybe the only one I’ve ever known – I’ve never seen mad. She seems to go with the flow and rise above every obstacle.”
During the event he was one of the featured speakers, lapsing into a humorous impromptu song medley.
“She’s equally at home singing in a church or a night club,” he said. “She has fans of all stripes.”
Current Mayor Kasim Reed also took the stage to express well wishes. He said he grew up watching Pearson deliver the news.
“You have a city that embraces you, that enjoys you,” Reed said. “I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me this was a joke because y’all had a ratings week going on. But we are happy tonight. God bless you.”
With a twinkle in her eye, Roberts then said, “We can’t let Monica retire without having a little fun, “and then invited director Kenny Leon to the stage. Leon had definite ideas about what Pearson should do in retirement.
“It is time for you to step forward and do a play. I can get you a Tony, Monica! Please come work with me,” he said. “You’re very beautiful. You’re very articulate. You were the inspiration for a lot of what I do. Buckhead to Bankhead, you are the face of Atlanta.”
The black-tie crowd included many of Pearson’s current and former Channel 2 colleagues, including David Chandley, Brad Nitz, John Bachman, Justin Farmer, Glenn Burns, Chuck Dowdle, Karen Minton and Carol Sbarge. Jovita Moore said she will miss Pearson’s kind, mentoring presence in the newsroom.
“It’s all just finally hitting me,” Moore said of her longtime friend and coworker’s departure before the event began. Taking the stage to deliver remarks, she became emotional.
“I can’t mess up my makeup!” she said, fanning away her tears. “She has been a true anchor for all of us, directing and guiding and mentoring us each and every day. I am here to thank her for all of her support and all of her guidance.”
Pearson’s longtime co-anchor John Pruitt gave heartfelt remarks.
“I feel a little guilty tonight. If I hadn’t told Monica how great retirement is, she might have reconsidered,” he joked. On a serious note he noted how she joined Channel 2 during a racially divided era to become the station’s first female and first black journalist on the 6 p.m. anchor desk.
“She was entering a world of newscasts dominated by white, male anchors,” he said. “She broke the mold. No, she shattered the mold. She did something no one else did, she was herself. It was the kind of thing that viewers related to. She was a breath of fresh air. Atlanta was a racially polarized city but Monica built a bridge. I do believe Monica did more for race relations in this town than any Civil Rights leader, simply by being herself.”
Finally it was time to hear from the lady of the hour and Pearson took the stage, looking regal in a one-shoulder Naeem Khan gown with floral bodice and rich crimson skirt, customized for her by Saks Fifth Avenue and accessorized with a pair of gloves created especially for the event.
“You all have been the wind beneath my wings in so many ways,” Pearson said. She thanked her colleagues, employers and family, especially her mother, Hattie Edmondson, whose words of wisdom have long been Pearson’s mantra: “It’s what you do with what you have that makes you what you are.”
“This evening, while you salute me, I salute you,” Pearson said. “I salute all of you. I salute the God who created all of us to be agents of change as we walk through life.”