She was a fighter.
That’s how Kathi Goertzen’s friends and colleagues will remember the longtime Seattle TV news anchor and Cougar alumna who died Monday afternoon following a 14-year battle with recurring brain tumors.
Goertzen was hospitalized late last week with benign but unrelenting tumors and died just days later surrounded by her family members. She was 54.
The accomplished reporter spent nearly 30 years working for ABC affiliate KOMO TV after graduating from Washington State University in 1980. She went on to win five Emmys, an Edward R. Murrow award and numerous other accolades, according to a news release from the university.
But those who knew Goertzen on a personal level will remember the famous anchor most for her strength and sincerity.
“I’ve never known anyone more courageous,” said fellow anchor Margo Myers, who worked with Goertzen for 11 years.
Goertzen approached her illness through an open dialogue with the public. Throughout her struggle, she kept the community informed about her numerous surgeries and complications, airing special reports on KOMO TV about her diminishing health.
Viewers returned a warm response, sending thousands of support letters to Goertzen and thanking her for sharing her story, Myers said.
“She genuinely cared about people and they responded to that,” she said. “She was terrific.”
Former classmates remember Goertzen for her involvement and dedication to her studies. She worked at WSU's radio stations, KWSU and KAZU, and was a member of Alpha Chi Omega.
"Kathi was always a stand out," said Beth Tuura, who worked alongside Goertzen at KAZU. "She’s one of those rare people that you’ll run into and they just have that charisma about them. ...A lot of us who grew up knowing her and watching her grow knew she was a good spirit and a good soul."
After leaving WSU, Goertzen continued to give back to the school in a number of roles. She worked on the Another Cougar First Down program, a recently established campaign to raise money for an endowed professorship in the name of broadcasting professor Glenn Johnson.
From 1994 to 2000, Goertzen served on the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees, and then went on to join the Foundation’s Board of Governors starting in 2007, according to the news release. She also created the “Kathi Goertzen Leadership Award,” an endowment for journalism students.
In addition to those roles, Goertzen was a longtime member of the Murrow Professional Advisory Board.
Johnson had the chance to get to know Goertzen when she was a student 30 years ago in one of his TV news broadcasting classes. Back then, it was clear that she was a star reporter, Johnson said.
Goertzen led a TV special on local PBS affiliate KWSU TV on the regional impact of Mount St. Helens ash the day after the eruption in May 1980.
But Johnson also developed a lasting friendship with his former student.
“She had a lot of talent and it was very obvious that she was going to do very well in this business,” he said. “But the other thing is that she was just a genuinely nice person.”
Through all her success, Goertzen never let her ego grow too large, he said. She always spared time to chat with aspiring journalism students and encourage them to go to WSU.
Murrow College Dean Lawrence Pintak said Goertzen maintained an active role on the Murrow Advisory Board despite her illness.
“She’s been such a fighter,” he said. “She’s always just had this amazingly positive outlook.”
When Pintak came to WSU, he found a lot of help from Goertzen in navigating the news industry throughout the region.
The former anchor is a Pacific Northwest icon, Pintak said, and her legacy will live on with the students she inspired.
“I think for our students she will always be a figure that embodies what you can achieve in the industry and how you can be a warm, vibrant human being while achieving that,” Pintak said.
Update Wednesday, Aug. 15, 9:49 p.m.: Reaction from a former classmate added.