Last Wednesday, in an observance of Women’s History Month, the Delaware County Press Club honored the grand dame of newspaper women, Barbara Ormsby.
During her 60 years in the news field, Barbara wrote for the Delaware County Daily Times, KYW Newsradio, the Philadelphia Daily News, United Press International, the Legal Intellingencer, Press Newspapers, Town Talk, The Spirit and Main Line Life. Wow! Even those who never had the honor of meeting Barbara had to have seen her byline and read her stories.
As a freelancer, Barb covered Delaware County Council meetings, the courts and school board meetings. She wrote about issues at the heart of the community, interesting local people and everything and everyone in between. I don’t think there’s a single person in the Ridley area who doesn’t know Barbara. She lived in Ridley Township and has covered all things Ridley since 1959. She has weathered multiple changes, in the news business and in the township, and knew many of the commissioners, business owners and residents of the township since they were kids. She is also the go-to person for getting the scoop on what’s happening and who’s who in Ridley Park, Eddystone and Morton.
Everywhere I go in those towns, it seems that I have people ask me if I know Barbara Ormsby, and then the second phrase out of their mouths is usually something like: “What a nice lady,” “She’s so sweet,” “She has class” or “She wrote a really nice story about …” Barbara, not only has a real talent for the pen, but I never once heard a negative word about her — ever. She has garnered praise and admiration from all those in her path.
After graduating from Wilkes-Barre Business College, Barbara went to work for a radio station in Northeastern Pennsylvania, writing radio commercials and doing occasional broadcasting. Barbara evolved with the news business over the next six decades. I can remember her agonizing over the changes of filing news and photos electronically. But she eventually learned to do it, just like she kept up with and learned every other new change through the years. She’s smart, resilient and has the utmost respect of everyone who knows her in and out of this business.
Barbara said, “I never worked in a newsroom. I always filed my stories from home or a phone booth. Highlights of my career include covering an event in 2007 at the White House when a visiting Little League Challenger Team from Ridley Township played a baseball game on the south lawn of the White House against a team from Glen Burnie, Md., to commemorate the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I sat in bleachers across from President George Bush and enjoyed a picnic lunch. My next best memory was an interview with artist Andrew Wyeth.”
Barbara, who’s a widow, raised two sons and a daughter in Ridley Township, where she lived for 50 years. I swear that she knows everyone within a mile or two radius of Ridley Township. She currently lives in Brookhaven, and if I have to guess, Barbara probably knows half the residents of the borough there by now, too.
In 1979, Barbara, along with the late Janet Shay and Dorothea Reynolds, founded the Delaware County Press Club after a casual conversation over tea in the basement snack bar of the Delaware County Courthouse. Janet had the idea for a club patterned after the National Press Club in Washington. The first official meeting was at Cavanaugh’s Bar and Restaurant in Pilgrim Gardens. Other original members in those early years included Charles Crist, Christina Parker, Dr. Margaret Mary Kearney and Joyce Ellis .
The Delaware County Press Club moved to the former It’s About Thyme restaurant shortly after and then on to bigger venues, national speakers, hundreds of members, and the rest, as they say, is history. For almost 40 years, the Delco Press Club has hosted hundreds of informative and entertaining luncheon meetings with big name speakers, awarded countless grants and scholarships to students studying communications and held dozens of professional development seminars and other special events for members and the community.
Barbara is still an active member of the Press Club. Not only was she the very first president of the club, but she has served on its board and various committees countless times. When she was honored last week, she was among her friends, colleagues, editors and fellow reporters.
Prior to Barbara receiving flowers and an award from current president Tracy Price, stellar remarks were delivered by Delaware County Daily Times Editor Phil Heron and longtime Press Club members Bette Alburger, another exemplary freelancer, and Joe Biscontini. They all praised Barbara as the ultimate professional, go-getter, community-minded individual that she is and her ability to always get the scoop and get it right! Bette said she has been a friend of Barbara for 37 years and she was the very first person that she met when she joined the Press Club. Phil Heron joked that he was only 4 years old when Barbara launched her journalism career. He talked about Barbara’s commitment to the residents of the “Smiley Street” neighborhood in Ridley Township and how she tirelessly covered the issue of the residents and township commissioners successfully banning a gentleman’s club from operating in their neighborhood.
“Barbara is the face of Delaware County,” Phil said. “She genuinely cares about the people that she writes about and the issues that she covers.”
Before Barbara was lauded for her exceptional career in journalism, Wednesday’s featured speaker Cherri Gregg of KYW NewsRadio and CBS Philly headlined the Women’s Month Luncheon. The theme of the program was “Women Who Succeeded Despite the Odds.” Introduced by Delco Press Club member Paul Bennett, editor/publisher of The Spirit Newspapers, Gregg, who is also an attorney, reports on community affairs, grassroots issues and events. Paul and Cherri became acquainted through the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, of which they are both members.
Cherri described how she defied the odds to succeed, overcoming the hurdles of having a mother who was temporarily homeless after her grandmother’s home caught fire, a father who battled addiction and was incarcerated and a brother who was the victim of police brutality. Her mother was disabled and blind from diabetes. She said a school trip to a local news station changed her life because she discovered what she was meant to do. Her family believed in education, and Cherri worked hard in school.
After being awarded a full scholarship to Boston University, the journalist never looked back. She worked hard while at school. She sold MaryKay Cosmetics as a “side hustle,” she cleaned houses, made copies and sold fur coats. After earning her undergraduate degree, she went on to Howard University to earn her degree in law. It was at Howard, she said, that she also learned how to dress and how to act in the business world. She started in a law firm in Atlanta and then moved to another in Philadelphia. But her passion remained in journalism, and she went to work at KYW.
Cherri talked about the importance of bringing diversity to the newsroom. All of her experiences and background shaped her, she explained, and made her empathetic and knowledgeable in covering underserved communities.
“These experiences made me who I am today,” she said.
“I don’t just go into neighborhoods when there’s a shooting,” she explained. “I also go when there’s a fish fry at a local church so that I am comfortable covering the neighborhood when there’s crime or other incidents. The people get to know that I care and that I cover all stories — the good and the bad — with passion and excellence.”
The well-known news reporter talked about the changing landscape of journalism and said that she now considers herself “a content provider” across all platforms.
“The most important thing is to be the best version of yourself,” she said. “Like yourself, like what you do and like how you are doing it.”
It was an inspiring afternoon, listening to two women role models who epitomize women who not only succeeded but stayed grounded and true to themselves. Both Barbara and Cherri lit up when they talked about their news careers, making it obvious that they are doing what they love to do.
Thanks to Cherri and Barbara for reconfirming the importance of finding what you love to do and then doing your best at it. We all benefit from their ability to bring us the news. Congratulations to my friend and colleague, Barbara Ormsby, for six decades of reporting news, fairly and correctly, and being a vital part of the Delaware County community! And the really cool part? After all those years, Barbara is still enthused and excited about whatever story that she’s working on! She can add me to the list of her countless dedicated fans that she’s gathered through her lifetime. An award from the Press Club to honor and give recognition to the achievements and attributes of this special lady is long overdue!