Roanoke College

Bates was acclaimed journalist and civic leader

  • Bates was acclaimed journalist and civic leader

  • 02/15/11
  • By Sharon Nanz '09

    Mary E. "Sunnie" Stanley Bates '45, Roanoke College Medalist and Sesquicentennial Distinguished Alumna, passed away on July 10, 2010, at the age of 84. A native of Roanoke, Bates graduated from William Fleming High School before earning her Bachelor of Arts in Classics from Roanoke College. One of the College's youngest graduates - she turned 19 just prior to commencement - Bates also was the first female student to serve as sole editor of The Brackety-Ack, a role she assumed as a 17-year-old junior.

    Bates' editorial leadership was just a prelude to a long and distinguished career in public affairs and journalism. As a young mother she became active in school and community affairs, and her involvement with the League of Women Voters led to her television career. While arranging for a League telecast on WRGB-TV in Schenectady, N.Y., she met Home Fare show host Ernie Tetrault, who encouraged her to audition to be his co-host.

    Though a television novice, Bates won the spot and went on to become one of the Northeast's leading television celebrities. She became intimately involved in programming and investigative reporting, and her hard-hitting reports on racial prejudice in the North earned her a 1961 Gold Mike award, the highest women's award in broadcasting and one of many awards Bates earned over the years.

    Following her time at WRGB, Bates co-anchored the noon news with Bill Burns at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, then the highest-rated daytime program in the nation. In 1962, she moved to Atlanta, where she helped found the Planned Parenthood Association of the Atlanta Area and became its executive director. Later, Bates spent 10 years as a real estate broker. She remained involved with the League of Women Voters for more than half a century.

    A lifelong student of the Japanese people, language and culture, Bates traveled extensively and amassed a large collection of Asian artifacts and books. Several years ago, she and her husband donated over 200 of these books to Fintel Library. Their home, modeled after a traditional Japanese sukiya-style home, has been featured on the cover of Southern Homes magazine.

    Bates credited Roanoke College with preparing her for varied roles and interests. She has said that the College provided her with "the most well-rounded education possible."

    "Roanoke College encouraged me to try new things and take risks," she said. "It's served me well throughout my life."

    President Michael Maxey said Bates' first name "fit her perfectly. She brought light and warmth into whatever she did, whether it was her efforts for international, regional, local or Alma Mater causes. She made the world a better place and will be missed."

    About the author: Sharon Nanz '09 is a freelance writer and an avid Masters swimmer. While at Roanoke, she majored in English and interned in the Office of Public Relations.