Verna Gates
2009 Alabama Communicator of Achievement

Alabama Media Professionals proudly recommends Verna Gates for selection as the National Federation of Press Women's 2009 Communicator of Achievement. Verna excels as a journalist and writer, as a community activist and as a member of our professional organization.

PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT

Verna Gates' career began as one of the original 50 employees of CNN who worked to launch the network. She worked for CNN as a writer/producer for four years. A freelance journalist, she writes for a number of national, regional and state publications. Many national and international writing awards hang on her office walls.

"Verna's professionalism comes through in her work, whether she is writing a simple business profile or a complex, investigative piece," says Erica West, Editor of Business Alabama magazine.

Currently Verna reports for two of the world's largest and most prestigious news organizations, Reuters International Wire Service and TIME Magazine. Based in London, Reuters is used as a news source by more than 470,000 media outlets and professional users globally.

"Her range of stories is wide: she writes features such as one on disabled Iraq veterans training for the Paralympics, to "48-hours in ... "postcard-style stories from datelines ranging from New Orleans to Antwerp," says Matthew Biggs, Atlanta Bureau Chief for Reuters. "But her main strength has been with breaking news and economic reporting. In the early hours of a multiple murder suicide in southern Alabama in March, she kept us up to date with regular updates that crucially were accurate and well-sourced at a time when big TV networks were getting the story wrong. She has also helped keep us ahead on an important - and highly technical - year-long municipal bonds story in Jefferson County. It's just the kind of the story that Reuters' business clients rate as important and where speed, accuracy and knowledge of the detail matter."

Reuters correspondent Bill Berkrot worked with Verna for more than two years on the HealthSouth accounting scandal. "In addition to the excellent Reuters file to which she was a regular contributor, one needed only to look at the personal attacks on Verna's integrity featured regularly on Scrushy's own website to know that she was doing an extraordinary job of keeping the heat on as the story unfolded," Berkrot says.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

The Alabama Bureau of Tourism named Verna "One of Alabama's Unforgettable Faces for 2003" and The Huntsville Times named her "An Alabama Treasure." The Alabama Environmental Council named her Conservationist of the Year in 2002. A nationally-known nature folklorist, or ethno botanist, her stories have appeared on NBC's Nightside, CNBC National Radio in Canada, Worldwide Television Network, Pulse of the Planet, Voice of America and others. She wrote and voiced her CD, Renegade Squirrels and Other Nut Cases.

For the last six years, Verna has taught ethno botany at Miles College in Birmingham. She has spoken on the topic at universities, schools and other organizations around the southeast for the last 18 years.

Verna spins yarns as a storyteller, having twice been awarded the distinction as Biggest Liar in Alabama, lies being Southern-speak for tall tales. She has been selected by VISA as an official storyteller in the Southern region as part of their literacy program.

She is also the founder and executive director of Fresh Air Family (www.freshairfamily.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to outdoor education. "Our motto is seeking nature and finding family," says Verna. Fresh Air Family launched in July of 2006 and quickly rose to its current membership of 10,000. A long time president of the Birmingham Wildflower Society, Verna began observing the decline of school field trips and the rise in age of outdoor groups with declining participation in outdoor activities. By putting the two together, she found a tremendous need for activities that everyone -- families, singles, seniors and youth -- can do together. All programs are free or low cost as all are equal in nature.

AMP/NFPW ACTIVITY

After attending her first meeting of Alabama Media Professionals, Verna contacted every writer and editor she knew encouraging each to join. "Looking back, at least three of AMP's last five president were recruited by Verna as were a number of the more active members," says past AMP president Ann Halpern.

Verna has been among the most popular speakers at AMP monthly meetings and periodic workshops. She generously shares her knowledge on writing techniques and the business side of freelance writing.

A frequent participant in AMP's annual communication Contest, Verna has several times been an Alabama sweepstakes winner. Most of her entries in the NFPW Communications Contest have brought more awards for her office wall.

Alabama Media Professionals highly recommends Verna Gates to be the recipient of NFPW's 2009 Communicator of Achievement Award.



Endorsements to Verna's nomination received by Ann Halpern, 2009 Alabama COA Coordinator

From: Debbi Spradlin 
Sent: Sunday, April 19, 2009 7:50 PM
To: Ann Halpern
Subject: Re: Verna's Communicator of Achievement entry

Verna Gates is a true treasure to the community.  She saw a need to expose children
to the outdoors and all of its wonders and went full steam ahead to accomplish her goal.
Everest Academy has participated in many activities organized and led by Verna, and she
is a true inspiration to the children as well as the adults in not only enjoying God's
gifts in the natural world but also reinforcing responsible stewardship behavior. 

Deb Spradlin
Administrator
Everest Academy    

Thanks so much,
Deb Spradlin


From: Kathy Stiles Freeland Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009 8:09 AM To: 'Ann Halpern' Subject: RE: Verna's NFPW Communicator of Achievement entry Kathy Stiles Freeland Executive Director Ruffner Mountain Nature Center I have known Verna Gates for several years as a result of our being members of the same organizations (Alabama Wildflower Society, Alabama Environmental Council, etc.) I have most recently worked with her because of her organization, Fresh Air Family. Our two organizations have cooperated in program planning and presentation and Ruffner Mountain has served as a site for several of their programs. Verna's leadership in the founding, organization and operation of Fresh Air Family is the reason it exists. Hundreds of children and adults are being introduced to the outdoors and the natural areas of Alabama because of her imaginative program. It is very complimentary to what we do here at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. It is an honor to support her for the NFPW Communicator of Achievement Award.
From: Bill.Berkrot Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009 11:18 AM To: halperns@ Cc: VernaGates@ Subject: RE: Verna's NFPW Communicator of Achievement entry For more than two years I worked with Verna Gates on nearly a daily basis as the HealthSouth accounting scandal unfolded, from early charges to the parade of executive guilty pleas and sentencings right through former CEO Richard Scrushy's trial and surprising acquittal. Verna was ahead of and on top of the story from the beginning, supplying Reuters not only with a steady drumbeat of news, but invaluable details and color on the Birmingham scene and colorful cast of characters involved inside and outside of the scandal. In addition to the excellent Reuters file to which she was a regular contributor, one needed only to look at the personal attacks on Verna's integrity featured regularly on Scrushy's own website to know that she was doing an extraordinary job of keeping the heat on as the story unfolded. Verna consistently displayed enthusiasm and professionalism and is always a pleasure to work with. She has made valuable contributions to many other stories for Reuters over the years but her work on the HealthSouth saga stands out as an example of journalism for which we can all be proud. Bill Berkrot, correspondent, Reuters.
From: Beth Stewart Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009 5:02 PM To: Ann Halpern Subject: RE: Verna's NFPW Communicator of Achievement entry The Cahaba River Society is a huge supporter of the work Verna has done with Fresh Air Family. We have a long-standing in-the-river environmental education program and also have family activities on the river, and FAF helps bring us many new people to learn about and love the Cahaba River, their drinking water source. With FAF Verna has found a tremendous vehicle for making it easy for families and kids to get out into the glorious natural areas Alabama offers, to reverse the sedentary, indoor habits that otherwise will lead to obesity. Her energy, dedication, and people skills have grown FAF so fast, and it has been an amazing and much needed addition to the Alabama conservation community. Verna is helping raise a generation of good stewards of our natural resources, because If people don't get out into nature, they won't have the personal connection and knowledge to make wise choices. Beth K. Stewart Executive Director Cahaba River Society 2717 7th Ave. S., Ste. 205, Birmingham, AL 35233
From: cm_evans Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 2:56 PM To: 'Ann Halpern' Subject: RE: Nominating Verna for NFPW COA award Verna Gates exemplifies all that I imagine of a first-class writer and reporter. I have known Verna more than 10 years, and I am constantly amazed by her talent, servitude in the community, knowledge and wit. She is an amazingly well-rounded individual, writer and reporter and deserving of great accolades for her service and accomplishments. Carol Muse Evan Publisher/Editor/Owner Birmingham Parent www.birminghamparent.com
From: Matt.Bigg@ Sent: Friday, April 24, 2009 7:54 AM To: halperns@ Subject: RE: Verna's NFPW Communicator of Achievement entry Verna Gates has been the main Reuters stringer in Alabama for all of the three years I've been bureau chief in Atlanta. From the start, she established a pattern of going the extra mile to break news and keep us ahead of the pack. When a big JonBenet Ramsey story in 2006, Verna traveled several hours through the night to conduct interviews that provided exclusive details into the background of the man who said he had killed Ramsey. Her range of stories is wide: she writes features such as one on disabled Iraq veterans training for the Paralympics, to "48-hours in ... " postcard-style stories from datelines ranging from New Orleans to Antwerp. But her main strength has been with breaking news and economic reporting. In the early hours of a multiple murder suicide in southern Alabama in March , she kept us up to date with regular updates that crucially were accurate and well-sourced at a time when big TV networks were getting the story wrong. She has also helped keep us ahead on an important - and highly technical - year-long municipal bonds story in Jefferson County. It's just the kind of the story that Reuters' business clients rate as important and where speed, accuracy and knowledge of the detail matter. Verna has a very wide range of contacts in the state and beyond and long experience that enables her to put together stories quickly on diverse subjects - a key attribute for a journalist covering Alabama. But there's more: she's able to reach key movers and shakers when we need them, and is able to pull more than just a "no comment." She asks the hard questions and is persistent until she gets the answers. She works quickly and efficiently. Though Verna juggles many things in her work life, she is available 24/7 to cover news a task she carries out with an inquisitive mind and an upbeat manner. I have no hesitation in recommending Verna for this award . She has that rare blend of skills that make a first class reporter. Matt
From: Deborah Lockridge Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 4:53 PM To: Ann Halpern Subject: Re: Nominating Verna for NFPW COA award Verna Gates is one of AMP's most active and admired members. She frequently lends her expertise as a speaker for AMP workshops and meetings, with authority and with humor, whether it's on getting a good interview, collecting from customers, or a number of other topics. Deborah Lockridge, Evan E. Lockridge Communications/Newport Communications
From: Melanie Parker Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 5:55 PM To: 'Ann Halpern' Cc: Gates Verna; Gates Verna Subject: Verna Dear Ann, I am delighted to recommend Verna for National Federation of Press Women Communicator of the Year. She is eminently qualified as a journalist, but I understand that what you need are comments about her community involvement. Verna has contributed significantly in recent years to the Birmingham Museum of Art, particularly as a very popular speaker during the Pompeii exhibition, when she drew a standing-room-only audience. Verna also has designed a tour that combines the plants represented in our fall 2009 exhibition of American art with a tour of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Museum visitors will have a much richer experience because of Verna's generous efforts to make connections to the language of flowers represented in these works of art. Please let me know if there is anything else I may do to support Verna's nomination. All the best, Melanie Melanie Parker Director of Public Relations & Marketing Birmingham Museum of Art 2000 8th Avenue North Birmingham, AL 35203-2278

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