After a combined 52 years at News 5, longtime anchors Leon Bibb and Lee Jordan announced on Monday their plans to retire.
Though their individual careers paths have similarities — both graduated from Bowling Green State University and worked at WCMH in Columbus — they leave behind unique legacies.
Jordan joined News 5 in 1987 as co-host of “The Morning Exchange.” (Did you know she beat out actress Halle Berry for the gig? Read more about that here.)
She spent the remainder of her broadcast career here, anchoring alongside Fred Griffith, Joel Rose, Ted Henry, Roy Weissinger and Chris Flanagan. Currently, she anchors News 5 at 5 with Frank Wiley.
Before joining News 5, she spent six years as host of PM Magazine for WCMH in Columbus.
When Leon walked through the doors of News 5 in 1995, he already had an abundance of life experience behind him.
Leon was raised in Cleveland and pursued his journalism career at Bowling Green State University. After graduating, Leon worked as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His journalism career was halted, though, when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1966. When he returned from the Army two years later, he went back to Bowling Green before launching his professional broadcast career at WTOL in Toledo.
Then, fate stepped in. If you know Leon Bibb, you know the significance of his ‘hitchhiker’ story. In short, it goes like this:
On a freezing cold day, Leon was driving a station vehicle when he saw a hitchhiker walking alongside the road. He felt compelled to pull over and give the stranger a ride. It just so happened that the man was a student at the University of Toledo and his girlfriend’s mother worked at the NBC affiliate in Columbus.
The hitchhiker gave Leon the woman’s number. She was familiar with his work and interested in chatting with him. Three weeks later, he was on the air at the station — WCMH.
Leon spent 6 ½ years there before moving to WKYC in Cleveland as a weekend and then primetime anchor. That’s where he spent much of his career, before joining the anchor desk at News 5.
For Leon, who is nationally known to have forged the way for African American journalists in television and print, there was no other way he could have lived his life, aside from bringing the news to members of the community as they sat in their living rooms every evening.
Reflecting on his career in journalism, he compared it to the circus. “People in the circus are born in the circus,” he said. “They get jobs in the circus, they work in the circus and they stay in the circus. They move around…but they don’t leave.”
“This is what I do and what I was born to do,” he said.
It’s difficult to sum up the career of a TV news legend, but here are some highlights.
• Former President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011
• George H.W. Bush
• James Earl Ray (the man who murdered Martin Luther King Jr.) at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
He covered the first Persian Gulf War, he’s flown with the thunderbirds and he’s been transported by blimp, jet and helicopter.
“Leon is the voice of Cleveland,” said News Director Jeff Harris. “He is part of our fabric. He knows our city and our people better than anyone. It is an honor to have learned from him and an even greater privilege to serve as his News Director. I’m happy for Leon, Marguerite and his entire family. This is a retirement that is well-earned — a lifetime of total, unequivocal dedication to journalism. We all will miss his stories, his perspective and his writing. Even more, we will miss his wisdom in life and passion for journalism. His life and career have been groundbreaking. And we will all cherish his legacy.”
For Lee, during her 30 years at News 5, her favorite stories were about people who have overcome great odds to find health and happiness.
“I will never forget interviewing Connie Culp at the Cleveland Clinic,” Lee recalled. “She had the world’s first near total face transplant, and her courage and perseverance were completely inspiring to me. More recently I spent time with two gay dads in Cleveland who’ve had two beautiful kids through surrogacy. None of it was easy for them. And a brilliant local artist who’s using his gifts to offer hope to young people in one of our most blighted neighborhoods. So often the stories we have to bring viewers each day are about what has gone wrong in our world. It has always been most rewarding for me to shine a light on stories about resilience, hope and the power of love.”
Lee calls her time at WEWS her great joy and privilege.
“I will miss my colleagues and that particular brand of humor that newsrooms share more than I can say,” she said. “I’ll also miss being part of the daily conversation with our viewers, whose loyalty I deeply value. Through all of the changes in how we get and share information in the last several decades, this remains a great television station. I’ve worked with and learned from the best.”
“Lee Jordan has spent thirty years as an anchor at one station. For our industry, this is groundbreaking,” said Harris. “She has persevered and excelled in a world wracked with stereotypes. Lee has bucked them all and forged a career not just for herself but for all women who’ve come behind her and chosen journalism as their profession. For three decades, Lee has told the stories of Cleveland at News 5. She has stood as a dignified presence for all of us in her storytelling, her reporting and her dedication to our community. While we will miss that warm, familiar presence on-air, we know her retirement is so richly deserved.”
Lee’s last day is July 28. Leon will retire on Aug. 1.
“As a News Director, you mark time by the big stories,” said Harris. “This is a big story. When two legends of local television retire on the same day, it’s remarkable. We thank both Leon and Lee for their wonderful careers dedicated to the station and the people of Cleveland. We have been blessed and wish them both our very best in this next journey.”