Southeast Louisiana has known Donna Britt for her television news career. On Wednesday, she was recognized for everything she has done off-camera.
Britt, 60, was named winner of the 77th annual Golden Deeds Award for her lifetime of service to a wide array of charities, schools and community organizations. The announcement comes almost three months after a neurological disease brought an early end to her 37-year broadcast career at WAFB-TV.
WAFB news anchor Donna Britt announced her retirement Wednesday, almost 11 months after she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
“I’m awestruck because of the people I’ve loved who have already won it — the Reginald Browns, the Farrow Behrenses, the Donna Saurages,” Britt said when told of her selection. “It’s just incredible. I mean, the list goes on. … To see this land in my lap, I feel humble to stand among such giants, because they are wonderful people.
The list of Britt’s involvement is extensive. She has been on the boards of organizations such as Salvation Army, Volunteers in Public Schools, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, the Baranco-Clark YMCA, Girl Scouts, the Baton Rouge Ballet Theater and Louisiana Association for Arts in Education.
Britt’s position as a TV news personality provided invitations to many boards, but Britt said she had an epiphany late one night while driving home from work. She saw a woman walking alone and being followed by a man who appeared to be menacing her. Britt pulled up and offered a ride.
The woman, named Sheila, worked at a 24-hour restaurant, and the bicycle she used to commute had been stolen. Britt dropped her off at work, and the next day brought her a used bicycle and two bike locks.
“I saw myself as a socially conscious and compassionate person, but why didn’t I know about the working poor like Sheila fighting desperately to keep her job and having so many hurdles to cross for what is a measly salary?” Britt said. “So, I decided to quit all the boards and find a way to see the … poor eye to eye.”
That led Britt to involvement with organizations at a hands-on level.
“She would come down and help in the soup kitchen. She would ring bells for us one or two days a week for the entire season,” said Brett Meredith, commander of the Baton Rouge Salvation Army from 2014-18. “Some things that she did were pretty incredible for somebody who was as busy and important as she was within our community.”
“She was always ready to help us,” said Dot Thibodeaux, co-founder of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. "She referred grandparents to us. She always did our conference, our emcee. I think she really, really, truly cared about our mission.”
At Progress Elementary in Scotlandville, Britt became what she called the “library elf.” She began by reading to students in the school office because the library was crowded with equipment transferred from a school that had closed. So, Britt helped the librarians get rid of materials to make the library more accessible to students, which was a massive undertaking in terms of red tape and elbow grease.
“I broke two vacuum cleaners getting the dust out,” Britt said.
Then, Britt began monthly programs with varying reading themes. She made large cardboard decorations to hide the scratched walls. She hosted Christmas events, dog parades and monthly ice cream parties for the class that read the most library books. Britt said the principal credited the competition for improving the school’s reading comprehension scores on standardized tests.
“I was decorating one September, and two boys walked into the library, and I heard one say, ‘Well, do you think we’ll have a dog parade this year?’” Britt said. “The other boy, said, ‘Yes. If Donna Britt said it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ It just made me feel so good.
Britt credits her father, the Rev. Dan Britt, for instilling her with a philanthropic spirit. Her father, a Southern Baptist pastor who worked full-time secular jobs on weekdays, used his handyman skills to help others, she said.
Britt worked at WAFB from 1981 until retiring in June after an 11-month battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis robbed her of her ability to deliver the news. An incurable neurological disease, ALS affects nerve cells from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body, causing the loss of muscle control and paralysis.
The Golden Deeds banquet will be held Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Baton Rouge Marriott. Tickets are $50 each and available from Richard Flicker at (225) 931-1626 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The award winner is chosen annually by the Inter-Civic Council of Baton Rouge, which is made up of members of various civic organizations throughout the area such as the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Cortana Kiwanis Club and East Baton Rouge Lions Club.
The award is open to nominees from East and West Baton Rouge, Ascension, East and West Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee and St. Helena parishes. The Advocate has presented the award along with the council since 1942.
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