Former WOOD TV news director, industry leader, dies of cancer

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman who led the WOOD TV newsroom for years died Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Patti McGettigan, 53, became WOOD TV’s news director in 2000 at the turn of the century and in the midst of tremendous transformation in how the world consumes its news. She served as the station’s news director until leaving the station in 2009 to serve as news director at stations in Indianapolis and Memphis.

“Patti was a driving and trans-formative force — leading us with her strong convictions, solid decision making, and great compassion for her team and the community we serve,” WOOD TV8 Director of Operations Kevin Ferrara wrote in a staff memo sent out Saturday evening. “She had the incredible vision to see the endgame to each decision with great foresight and clarity.”

One of McGettigan’s proudest accomplishments was her work on an award-winning special called “Race in Reality”. It aired in 2005. The program examined the role race plays in the community and the consequences of racism and discrimination. The initiative ultimately garnered the station a national RTNDA Unity Award.

For WOOD TV8 staffers at the time, the experience went further. She encouraged all of the newsroom staffers to participate in the Institute for Healing Racism.

McGettigan was known as a fierce competitor who demanded that her team be in place to provide market-leading coverage when it mattered most. This included the hosting of a nationally-televised Republican presidential primary debate in 2000 and extended coverage following the death of President Gerald R. Ford.

She also had a deep sense of the feeling behind what was happening in the community. During the 2008 economic downturn, Patti pushed the station to host giveaways of basic needs.

Patti embraced the digital and technological changes that continue to impact the news industry. She holds the @NewsDirector handle on Twitter and spearheaded the “web first” reporting model at WOOD TV — now an industry standard.

“She didn’t just tell us what to do, she shared her reasoning and inspired us to push ourselves to be better,” Ferrara wrote in the staff memo.

Many who respected McGettigan often talk about her eye for talent. She recognized and invested in the talent of some who remain a part of WOOD TV’s news product today and others who’ve moved to large markets and the national stage — like ABC Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee and CBS Chicago news reporter Brad Edwards. She didn’t hire him, but also worked closely with ABC News correspondent Steve Osunsami during his time at WOOD TV8.

Patti was bold, direct, and laser focused on journalism. Few would question the passion she had for doing news in a way that made an impact.

Patti dealt with cancer diagnoses three times. Even after learning her latest diagnosis would likely take her life, she continued to lead her newsroom at Fox 13 in Memphis until late last year when her medical condition demanded her full attention.

Patti was a mother of two, and a friend to many who cherish her memory.

“For the ‘very Irish’ little girl who was destined to be in journalism, growing up on Dale Street in Dearborn, watching Walter Cronkite and Bill Bonds every night in her living room with her dad, you too are now a legend to many of us,” Ferrara wrote. “You’ve made an indelible impact on WOOD TV and TV journalism.”

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