By Judy Clabes
If you tune in to CNN these days and spot behind a microphone a lovely, fresh-faced young news correspondent who looks really familiar, you are old enough to remember Kentucky’s own “Camelot” days. That enchanted time when a celebrity-powered couple occupied our Governor’s Mansion – and the birth of a baby girl became a piece of the story that further captured the hearts of Kentuckians.
That would be Nov. 29, 1983, when Pamela Ashley Brown was born to Kentucky Fried Chicken magnate and then-Gov. John Y Brown and his glamorous wife, Phyllis George Brown – former Miss America and trail-blazing CBS-NFL sportscaster.
Yes, Pamela Brown, the accomplished CNN correspondent and occasional anchor is that Pamela Brown, Kentucky’s own First Family baby. She has worked her way to national prominence from a highly visible weekend anchor position at ABC7/WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C.
She joined Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan’s team on CNN’s New Day morning show in March – and hit the ground running by covering major national stories – the Boston Marathon bombings, the Cleveland kidnappings, and the Oklahoma tornado, among them. She frequently teams up on assignment with Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer.
Pamela is a mirror image of her famous mom, though she has taken a different route to carving out her career.
The parent Browns interrupted their honeymoon to sweep into the governor’s race in 1979, surprising nearly everyone – and promising to “run the state government like a business.” Despite a late start, Brown won the Democratic primary by a thread then handily defeated former Republican Gov. Louie Nunn in the general election.
Their two children, Lincoln and Pamela, were born during their term of office. Kentucky’s First Lady took leaves from her NFL program responsibilities to give birth to both her “first son” and, three years later, her “first daughter” – and earned accolades for “saving” the Governor’s Mansion when she undertook to secure funding and oversee the restoration of the historic structure.
Infant Pamela spent her childhood at the family’s Cave Hill estate in Lexington and stayed there after her parents’ divorce in 1998 to finish her studies at Henry Clay High School. She sent a strong signal early on that she would make it in the world on her own merits when she headed to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism. (She now bleeds two shades of blue, she says.)
She set her sights on a career path – without the baggage of being “that” Pamela Brown.
In her official bio on the CNN website, there’s no mention of correspondent Pamela Brown’s famous parents.
Her proud parents are just as determined that she gets credit for her own successes. They are reluctant even to comment for fear of any hint that she benefitted by anything but her own intelligence, hard work and determination – which she possesses in abundance.
Though tender admiration shows in a mother’s face and pride can be heard in a father’s voice, both parents agree that Pamela just wanted to grow up as a “normal kid.” Her dad remembers she was the “hardest worker in school” and possessed “passion and drive and ambition.” Though he was surprised when she chose broadcast journalism.
Mom wasn’t so surprised as she saw early on her daughter’s curiosity – and appetite for stories.
“Mom was always encouraging me to do whatever I wanted,” Brown says. “But being around her had an influence on me, and probably helped push me in the direction I took.”
She remembers interviewing family members with a “Talkgirl” recorder as a young girl.
At Chapel Hill, she worked for UNC’s Emmy award-winning student news program, Carolina Week, which she describes as a formative experience.
“We would go out and shoot our own stories, write and then edit them,” she said. “That’s where I really got my feet wet as a journalist.”
After graduation, Brown landed a job as an on-air reporter in Washington, D.C., traveling to earthquake-ravaged Haiti and handling on-air coverage of Hurricane Sandy. She became the weekend news anchor and earned an Emmy nomination.
She distinguished herself as a reporter, particularly for a year-long investigative project exposing an alarming trend in Northern Virginia of selling young girls for sex. Local police still present her exclusive report in human trafficking training sessions.
After seven years in D.C. she was offered a contract with CNN.
“Working at CNN is a dream come true,” she says.
She immediately set a pace, pushing herself and working hard. She volunteered for the big stories, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the Cleveland kidnappings – not backing off from long hours and no-time-to-pack travel.
She’s working with role models turned colleagues. “I have been humbled to be here and working with people like Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer,” Brown said. “But as for myself I certainly have a long way to go and am still paying my dues.”
At a recent appearance at High Point University in North Carolina, giving a keynote speech and working with students, Brown told the crowd, “You have to lose to win and sometimes out of failure comes success.” She shared insightful career advice with the students.
Her own career goals? In 10 years, she hopes to “still be at CNN, and telling stories.”
On this fast-paced journalist-life, her mom will say one thing: “I hope she gets enough rest.”
Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward. University of Kentucky intern Judah Taylor contributed to this story.