After all the murderers and rapists and fallen politicians, the hurricanes and shuttle launches, the perp walks and police funerals, TV reporter Warren Elly doesn't remember the story. But I do.
Years ago, he was sitting in first-appearance court, a place so familiar to a beat reporter the wooden pews for observers feel like they're worn to the shape of your backside.
Waiting for The Criminal of the Day to take his turn before the judge, Warren found himself next to a girl with a black eye. She wanted to testify that her boyfriend didn't mean to hurt her, he just had so much pressure on him, and couldn't the judge give him bail so he could come home?
Sadly, she was a dime a dozen at the courthouse, but Warren saw something else. He got her to talk and ran a story on domestic violence and women who won't prosecute and courts and cops struggling with how to deal with what had long been considered a private family matter.
Of course, by the time I told him I admired the story, he was already on to the next.
He landed here in 1982 and wore his dark hair slicked back. For a time, he sported a gunslinger's mustache until a news director told him to shave it off, his first experience with the cosmetic side of the news. He still likes to say he has a great face for radio.
Governors and state attorneys and sheriffs came and went, but there was always Warren from Channel 13, antsy with nervous energy and puffing down the last of a cigarette before his live shot. Prettier scorched-earthers have trampled through the local news landscape, promising and cajoling and moving on, but that was not him.
His stock-in-trade was trust and shoe leather, the result being a tendency to show up where something big had just happened or was about to. Secretaries happily made him copies, and clerks bent over backward to get him records. He probably quit smoking a dozen times, finally for good, though there is value in a beat reporter who can join the throngs taking their breaks outside government buildings.
He got to know a Tampa cop named Ricky Childers smoking, drinking coffee and feeding the pigeons together outside the police station — "the first cop who trusted me," he says. Warren was there with his cameraman the day Childers and Detective Randy Bell loaded a suspect into a police cruiser. Not long after that video was taken, the man was out of his handcuffs, and two cops were dead. Sometimes, Warren goes to the cemetery to see the cop who trusted him.
He got to be such an old hand at courts and cops they sent him to Los Angeles to cover O.J. Some of the best days, though, were shuttle launches. He has always been fascinated by space, and he covered at least 120 of them by his own count. When the Columbia was destroyed on a Saturday morning, it was Warren Elly doing live analysis for Fox News Channel.
He is 60 now, his hair and tan still dark but his mind on his wife of 38 years, Lona, and his grandkids. After a lifetime in TV news, all those years of true stories you could not possibly make up because no one would believe you, he retires in July. He says he is ready.
Juries will go on saying guilty and perps will walk and politicians fall, and the TV news will roll on full of bright, perfect faces talking into microphones, and it won't be the same without Warren.