Looking Back: Mo remembers early professional life, working with her brother

Published: Mar. 12, 2019 at 6:49 PM EDT
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Tuesday night's recognition by the St. Joseph County Council was another in a long line of recent honors our own Maureen McFadden has received.

And it's something that's been happening pretty much her entire career. Since she walked in the door of WNDU in 1979, Mo has witnesses a lot of changes in TV news.

"You probably came in right after film?" asked Terry McFadden, Mo's brother.

"Oh, no, there was film when I came in," she responded. "Les Howard, one of our photographers, one night we had radio on TV because he made the mistake of taking the film home in the trunk of his car with him instead of leaving it so it can be developed. So, I was on the end of film, but that was one of the stranger things that happened to us."

From film to videotape to digital, Mo has seen TV news evolve.

"We've got social media now where we need to post on Facebook and Twitter, and things have just changed," she said. "It was simpler back then. You know, we just told the stories. You know, I remember being told by one of my news directors, 'Don't make the story bigger than it is, and don't make the story smaller than it is. Just tell the story.'"

And when it comes to telling the story, Mo is in a league of her own.

"She is the definition of a pro when you talk about a journalist because she does it all," WNDU President and General Manager John O'Brien said. "She is fantastic at the anchor desk, but she has done some tremendous reporting over the years and she's done some huge stories over the years and you don't always see that, you just don't."

It began early on in her career when she became friends with another budding WNDU journalist, Anne Thompson, now a correspondent for "NBC Nightly News."

"We were roommates," Mo recalled. "We both worked these awful shifts. I came in at 4, she came in at 5, and we had an apartment at Castle Point, and we just had a great time together."

"We were on a totally different sleep schedule than the rest of the world, and so we would take one night of the week out to stay up late and watch 'Dynasty,' make dinner and share one of those jugs of Gallo wine," Thompson said. "It wasn't very glamorous, but it sure was fun."

"And it was nice because we were interested in journalism, but we were also passionate about Notre Dame and we liked to travel," Mo added. "… So, Annie and I made a proposal that we would like to go over to London and cover the opening of the new London Law School, and that's where we wrote a letter to [U.S. Supreme Court] Chief Just Warren Burger, then chief justice, and he granted us the first television interview he had granted in over 10 years because he was impressed by our letter."

It would be the first of many high-profile interviews over the year. Among them: comedian Jay Leno, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Notre Dame's Rev. Ted Hesburgh, with whom Mo had a special relationship that endured until his dying days.

"Father Ted was just a doll, and our family has a history with him," Mo said. "We grew up in Vetville with the married veterans lived, the little Quonset huts on the dirt road at Notre Dame campus.

"And I remember one of the first times going into Father Ted's office, and I went to shake his hand and he said, 'Oh, Maureen, give me a kiss on the cheek. We go so far back.' Because he was the chaplain at Vetville."

But it was the stories about the lives of those who lived in relative anonymity or those living on society's margins that resonated most with Mo and her viewers.

She has won several first-place awards for her reporting, including two Emmy awards, the Holy Grail of TV journalism. Both followed trips to the operating room to document ordinary Michiana residents facing extraordinary medical issues.

"What I liked about them wasn't just cutting-edge medical; it was a story about people and how they're affected by the things that have happened to them," Mo said.

One of those stories documented an art teacher – no longer able to draw because of the ravages of Parkinson's disease – who went in for brain stimulation surgery.

"And I'll never forget after being in that surgery and showing up at his house afterwards, and he said prior to this surgery, 'When you come back, I'm going to be painting this little brown jug' he had outside his house that was filled with flowers," Mo recalled. "And when we went back, he was sitting out in his backyard, his hand just as smooth as can be, painting that."

Mo also did a regular segment called "Kids to Love" to help find a big brother or sister for children, usually from single-parent, low-income households.

"We would match a child with a big brother/ big sister, and you knew what you were doing," she said. "A lot of time in news, we don't know how are stories will impact people or the city. But those stories, I knew we matched a kid up with a great big brother or sister that's going to become their friend, perhaps for life. And so those were very gratifying."

Perhaps most gratifying for Mo has been the rare opportunity to spend her entire career in her hometown, staying close to what's most important to her: family. And that includes the even rarer opportunity to be near family while at work.

"One day, somebody told you, 'Guess what, you're going to be co-anchoring with your brother,'" Terry said.

"Yeah, dream come true right?" Mo responded.

"Right, right."

"That was something we both wanted."


"And people will say to me, 'How's it anchoring with your brother, don't you fight all the time?' And I said, 'No, Terry and I don't fight.' Terry, as many of our viewers know, you're about 4 1/2 years younger than me, so you were like my little baby that I carried around and we never had problems. Now, probably one or two of our brothers, I always said there would have been blood on the set if we had to work together. Not true, we all get along."

But what developed was a special on-air chemistry. Because, as they say, blood is thicker than water.

"I think anchoring with you has been easier because, one, we kind of know what the other one is thinking and, two, we're not afraid to say 'Hey, why don't we do it this way?'" Mo said. "Where when you're anchoring with someone you're not related to, you might hold back and not want to make the suggestion.

"Working with you has been one of the greatest things that could happen to a brother and sister, and having mom and dad as long as we did. I know dad. My husband said to me, 'You know who's not happy you're retiring, it's dad.'"

"The guy who taped us every night," Terry said.

"The guy who taped us every night, he's probably up there saying, 'Listen, you're not old enough to retire. Tell them you're staying.' But I know mom's happy, because she always thought I worked too hard."

On Wednesday night at 6, we'll talk to more NewsCenter 16 journalists, past and present, and hear their thoughts about working with a local broadcast legend.