Every workplace has one.
I’m talking about the co-worker who can cut through the darkness with a smile, a friend who can dissolve stress with a light hearted greeting, a partner in crime who will celebrate the end of the week with a Friday dance-off.
For more than three decades, the ray of sunshine in an often stressful newsroom on Monroe Place went by the name of Birnur Richardson.
We called her “B.” Just B. She immigrated from Turkey, finding her way to WXIA-TV where she began work as an intern in that often stressful newsroom that, in those days, was located on West Peachtree Street. Without complaint, B eagerly tackled each and every task the bosses sent charging toward her. Eventually, WXIA-TV had to offer her full-time work. It was either that, or lose our version of Muhammad Ali– smart, spry, able to punch out tasks with an entertaining bounce.
She could float like a butterfly, but this B had no sting.
I met Birnur in the summer of 1981. We were both interns, both tasked with working the WXIA assignment desk during the weekends. I arrived in the mornings, she took over in the afternoons. We were naive and nervous, and I took the job quite seriously, probably way too seriously. In her good natured style, B would often poke fun of my overstressed attitude and urge me to relax. She became a big sister. Seven years later, I would work my way back to the WXIA newsroom, and there was B, still trying to keep me at ease with her polite ribbing and her big, captivating smile.
Years passed. B drifted to the morning shift, and eventually, so did I. A newsroom can be a solemn, grumpy place at 3 a.m., unless you employ Birnur Richardson. Nothing could faze her. Editing glitches, computer problems, system breakdowns. She handled it all with polite professionalism. And if you had an issue, somehow she would break away from her job of editing two-and-a-half hours of videotape to help. Never, not once, did I ever hear B speak a cross word to anyone. Ever.
Last year, after 35 years at WXIA, Birnur Richardson retired. She went home to spend time with her husband and two children. She seemed quite happy, at peace. Her work family missed her terribly, so when word filtered back that she was sick, we worried. But it seemed she was going to be ok. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. Part of it is that B didn’t let a whole lot of people know just how sick she really was. Part of it, I’m sure, is my fault. Perhaps I wouldn’t let my mind accept the possibility that cancer was about to claim yet another loved one.
When Birnur Richardson passed away, it was like Interstate 85 had collapsed all over again, only this time, it dropped right on top of my head.
I can’t stop seeing the smile that could cut right through the stress. I can’t stop hearing the song that our morning co-worker Jojo Johnson would sing to Birnur every Friday:
Don’t you dare sting me…
And I can’t stop hearing B’s exuberant “Whoo hoo” at the end of each Friday performance.
Since her passing, I’ve heard from people who are long gone from WXIA, but continue to cherish their time working with the effervescent Birnur. Everyone is in total shock. Generations of former co-workers remember her tough but gentle nature, and her joyful approach to each and every situation. We are trying to comfort each other with the the stories of how B treated us all like family.
She was tough. She was smart. She was hard working, but most of all, Birnur Richardson was happy. She lived and worked in a joyful manner that bubbled over, infecting everyone around her.
Once again, cancer leaves its sting.
It won’t erase our joyful memories of the Bumble B who brought a smile instead of a sting.