First Words

Inspired and Inspiring

By Paula Williams Madison ’74, AAVC President and College Trustee

On July 1, I had the honor of becoming president of AAVC, and it’s a challenge I relish.

My Vassar ties have had a profound effect on my life — professionally and personally — in the 28 years since I graduated. I did attend graduate school for journalism; but, like most universities, it had an energy very different from Vassar’s. I was frustrated by what it wasn’t more than by what it was.  

I left shortly before the final semester, with no job lined up and not knowing if I could be hired as a professional journalist. But my friend and mentor, LaFleur Paysour ’72, who originally inspired me to pursue journalism, called me with news. She was the health/medical reporter for a local daily newspaper. She was taking a sabbatical to study opera in France and encouraged me to apply for the position she was vacating. With no prior journalism experience, aside from a few months of grad school courses, I entered the executive editor’s office, wondering what it would take to convince this man to hire me. When he asked for my portfolio of press clips, I confessed I had never written articles professionally, nor in college, nor back in my “hometown” of New York City. “You have no writing samples?! What makes you think you can write for this paper?” he demanded with a chilly tone. “Because I’ve read it,” I replied stonily. I think he was unable to resist the challenge. “Well, you’re from Vassar!” he declared. “Let’s just see what you can do.” I reported to work almost immediately, fell in love with journalism, and have never looked back.

I am currently the president and general manager of KNBC and regional general manager of the NBC/Telemundo Los Angeles TV stations. In the past 25 years, journalism has taken me from Syracuse to Texas to Oklahoma, back to Texas, to New York and, now to California. One of my most important bases has always been my Vassar friends—those who’ve supported me from my days as an undergraduate as well as those I have met and befriended in my many travels. I’ve relied on Vassar’s Office of Admissions to help me identify quality elementary and high schools in each of the cities where I’ve enrolled my daughter (in Tulsa, Houston, and New York City), and to find alums with whom I could make an immediate connection and develop a local support group. During these unfortunate times in our country, I need not emphasize the importance of remaining connected. Vassar and the Vassar family have given me so much. As president of the alumnae/i association, it’s my goal to give back. Working with our dedicated AAVC Board of Directors, our wonderful professional staff, and the excellent leadership of the college, I will pursue a vigorous course of action to strengthen the ties among alumnae/i and keep you all connected to each other and to our beloved alma mater. Stay connected with each other and with Vassar; you’ll be the richer for it. And thanks, LaFleur—you were right — I love journalism!