CLEVELAND - To be a television general assignment reporter takes a lot of ability because those who labor in the field of journalism must be knowledgeable of many things. They will cover everything from international incidents to national politics to the latest news from the local neighborhood.
Tony Gaskins displayed that ability for about 30 years as a professional journalist. Eighteen of those years were at WEWS NewsChannel5 in Cleveland, where he worked daily in front of the cameras from 1988 to 2006.
When the phone call came from his family members and friends telling our television station Tony had died of an apparent heart attack, it hit hard.
Tony was the kind of reporter every news director wants on the street. He could dig for the facts of a breaking news story, get the story written, meet the deadline for the story, and present it on camera in a calm and professional manner. From 1988 to 2006, Tony covered ever manner of story in northeast Ohio.
He had been in the profession of news gathering since 1976 when he began his career in Harrisburg, Pa., as a reporter and weekend public affairs radio show host. In Harrisburg, Pa., Gaskins anchored a weekday award-winning radio newscast until he moved into television. It was also in Harrisburg, he attended Harrisburg Area Community College, majoring in communications and photography. He took classes that would serve him well for the next three decades of his life.
In 1989 in Cleveland television came an Emmy award for an underground railroad special where Gaskins tracked the paths slaves followed from the American South into Ohio and later into Gaskins' native Canada. It was in Montreal, Quebec, Tony had been reared before his family immigrated to the U.S.
"He was unflappable," said many reporters at WEWS NewsChannel5. On stories where he reported live from the field, Tony Gaskins would look straight into the camera and give the latest on the story he covered. In bad weather or during tense moments on a crime scene, Gaskins could always be counted on to deliver.
His sign-offs on his reports were usually accented with his bass voice, placing emphasis on the word "news" in NewsChannel. After 18 years at WEWS, he joined Cleveland City Hall to work as a producer and anchor for TV20, the City of Cleveland's cable channel. He was also in charge of scheduling guests for the weekly public affairs program, "Issues andAnswers," and co-hosted the station's "Weekly News Wrap-up" program.
Tony also cared much about others. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, his younger brother, Bill Gaskins of Harrisburg, said Tony often spoke with his family about organ donations and the importance of the gift of life upon one's death.
"Tony donated his kidneys," said Bill Gaskins. "Already, there are two recipients for his kidneys," he added. His gift will improve the lives of two people.
With the news of his death, archivists at WEWS NewsChannel5 went into the television station's archives to retrieve some of Tony's stories.
"It was such a pleasure to see him and hear his voice again," said news photographer Tom Livingston, who doubles as the station's prime archivist. Livingston covered many stories with Tony throughout their years of working together. "It was always wonderful working with him," said Livingston.
When Livingston touched the button on the video player, there was Tony Gaskins again covering the news. His beautiful golden bass voice was resonant again and his image unfolded on the television screen. He truly was an attribute to the broadcast profession, the WEWS news operation and to northeast Ohio.
At age 56, he had more than 30 years of broadcast experience under his belt. Though his voice is now silent, journalists at WEWS throughout the day have gone into the archives to pull out his old stories and play them and relish the work of a fine news reporter who made a major impact on his beat which covered so much. Once again, that beautiful voice flowed from the loudspeakers almost like music. He was a general assignment reporter with remarkable ability to get the facts straight, write the story under the pressures of deadlines to have it ready in time for broadcast, and tell the story in an interesting way.
Aside from his brother, Tony is survived by his mother and a son. Also grieving his loss are many friends and co-workers in television news and at Cleveland City Hall where he taught younger broadcasters how to get the story, get it quickly, and get it right.
Tony Gaskins WAS television news in every positive sense of the phrase.