A lot of employees at WJZ-TV, ABC’s Baltimore affiliate, got a shock in February when the station’s new on-air reporter walked in. Their most common reaction was, “My God, that’s my teacher!” There was no mistaken identity. From her start as a high school history teacher to her retirement in 1974 as the Community College of Baltimore’s dean of student personnel, Leona Morris had spent 34 years in the local educational system, and during that time she’d taught a number of WJZ’s staff.
Now 72, Morris is on their case again. A gray-haired fireball who believes that “you’re only as young as you feel and I feel like I’m in my early 50s,” Morris has come out of retirement to serve as the station’s senior citizen correspondent. Delivering weekly reports on medical, social and financial developments for the elderly (“I like to stress the positive without being too Pollyanna-ish,” says Morris), she’s become possibly the oldest TV reporter in the country.
It’s taken some adjustments. Although the Baltimore native was hired for her communications skills, she’d had limited TV experience, so Morris has had to learn to look into the right camera and cut down on her tendency to ad-lib. She also has to be careful about sounding too much like a teacher who’s lecturing her students. In turn her co-workers have had to watch their four-letter words and even their offhand remarks. During one show, when anchorman Al Sanders said he hoped to see her back next week, the feisty Morris replied, “Well, I certainly intend to be back!”
Indeed, Morris thinks she might keep on reporting until her 80s. “I think it’s hysterical that at my age I’m starting a new career,” she says. Viewer mail and response have been enthusiastic since she started, but Morris hasn’t let her visibility swell her head. “I haven’t quite reached the celebrity stage,” she says. “Yes, people come up and say they see me on TV, but I don’t have any groupies. At least not yet.”