Doug Viar Taught Me Everything I Ever Learned About Covering News – Sure Wish He Was Still Around

Photo courtesy of Clayton Hayes & his son Tod. : That’s Doug Viar in the black shirt on the far right. This was covering President Clinton and VP Gore back in the mid 1990s during an appearance in downtown Dyersburg, Tennessee. To my left was Tod Hayes.

I’ll never, ever forget the day Doug Viar’s daughter, Lori, sent me an instant message  over Facebook. “Tommy, daddy is gone.” It sort of confirmed something I had a funny feeling about that day. I’d been trying to reach Doug. There was a severe weather outbreak back in his area of Western Tennessee near Jackson. I never got an answer, not on his office phone, not on his cell. But, I figured maybe the power was out and storms had taken out cell service. Lord knows, he and I had covered dozens and dozens of tornadoes where we had nothing more than walkie talkies to communicate, or simply used pay phones and a roll of quarters. Though it was odd I hadn’t heard from him and wasn’t able to reach him with such a significant severe outbreak.

This would be Doug’s last Facebook post ever. He’d made mention of a severe wether outbreak on his own website then posted it that morning around 9:20. A few hours later, Doug was gone.

Doug had gotten up from his office chair that morning to go to the kitchen for a coffee refill. He was walking down the steps, literally dropped dead, and was gone.

I learned most everything I know about covering news from Doug Viar. Not some college classroom where they are talking ethics, that hardly ever get practiced anymore. No, I learned ethics and the true trade from Doug. And he had tremendous ethics. He was one of the best in the country. Learning under him helped make me a close 2nd or 3rd, but never a duplicate.


Above, some of Doug’s outros from various news reports over the years. He’s voice was well recognized all over the mid-south and the U.S.

Doug and I were a rare breed of reporters and videographers in those days. He owned all of his own gear. I did too later on after I learned the craft. We flew ourselves everywhere by private plane, both of us pilots. We often joked that we’d be to the scene of a news event, shoot and cover it, fly back and edit, fly the tape to the station, and be back home before the other guys even arrived! There were no sat trucks in those days except in large metro markets. TVU’s and even cell phones weren’t around in the beginning.

Doug and I chatting during a Clinton-Gore appearance in NW-TN back in 1996. Tod Hayes is over my shoulder with a camera on his shoulder.

Every year on this date, I remember Doug. Why? Because he meant so much to me personally. There were few real newsmen (yes, he would approve of the word men) like Doug back then. There really aren’t any these days. He simply would scoff and cuss at what he would be seeing now.

I stay in touch with his wife Margaret. I always call her my second mom. I still stay in touch with his daughters, Lori and Michelle. And his brother George, who taught me to fly airplanes.

Doug wasn’t one to dwell on the sad times. So I won’t here. Not much. He’s missed, and 11 years later it still stings. But, I’ll leave you on a happy note. One of the funniest times I can remember. The endless outtakes he was trying to do for the groundbreaking of a law enforcement museum near the home of legendary Sheriff Buford Pusser. It became quite the circus while he tried to finish. This is how I like to remember Doug.

About tommystafford

Recovering from life as TV news reporter. Airplane & helicopter pilot. Weather guesser. Farmer. Trail runner, dad & husband living in the beautiful Central Virginia Blue Ridge mountains!
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