Paul Gates, the longtime WAFB investigative reporter and anchor, died Tuesday afternoon after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Gates, 69, died peacefully at home, with his wife, Michele, and three adult children by his side, said Robb Hays, WAFB news director.
“Paul was always fun to be around, but he knew when it was time to get his sleeves rolled up,” Hays said. “He was well-respected by everyone here.”
Gates retired from WAFB in June 2011 after 34 years with the station. During that time, he held a number of roles, from tough investigative reporter to affable 5 p.m. anchor. He also co-hosted a twice-weekly cooking segment with chef John Folse.
“He was a model for being adaptable,” said former WAFB reporter Marsanne Golsby, who worked with Gates from 1983 to 1995. “He was mostly an anchor, then he became a hard-hitting investigative journalist and there was a whole other side of him. He was somebody who was approachable and funny and easy to be around, but he could scare the dickens out of people.”
Gates, who grew up in the central Louisiana town of Tullos, joined WAFB as a reporter in March 1977. He moved to anchoring the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts several years later. But he lost those spots when the station brought in George Sells in August 1988. Sells said Gates “never once showed the least bit of rancor” about losing the prime anchor spots.
“He even helped me with those south Louisiana pronunciations,” Sells said.
Instead, Gates turned his energy toward being an investigative reporter. His “Paul Gates Investigates” series uncovered corruption and wrongdoing across the state.
“When we put him on investigations, he was as bad down here as ‘60 Minutes,’ ” Sells said.
Phil Rainier, who worked at WAFB for 30 years as a health reporter, said Gates’ zest for investigative reporting came from the fact that he “cared about the little guy.”
“Paul worked as the Contact 9 reporter, the consumer advocate reporter, so he would go out when there was a report of a business that didn’t treat a customer fairly,” Rainier said. “He relished that role.”
At the time of his retirement, Gates went public with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Rainier said he had the highest respect for Gates and his wife for having the bravery to disclose the illness.
“He was gracious enough to do a series that chronicled his diagnosis and discussed what services were available to Alzheimer’s patients in Baton Rouge,” Rainier said.
Some of Gates’ professional honors included receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters and being named “Reporter of the Year” by the Louisiana Associated Press in 1994.
Donna Britt, the longtime anchor, said Gates helped instill an idea of quality that has endured at WAFB and helped to shape the top-rated station.
“He had panache, compassion and appreciation for absurdity,” she said. “He was a great guy and a wonderful communicator.”