Former Baton Rouge television news icon Donna Britt, who ended her 37-year run on WAFB in 2018 due to her battle with ALS, has passed away.
She was 62.
Her husband, Mark Ballard, made the announcement via social media a little after 8:30 a.m. Thursday, writing that Britt “died peacefully this morning at home with family around her.”
WAFB released a statement after news of Britt’s death broke, along with a bio of her career with the news station.
“It is with great sadness that we report that beloved former WAFB anchor Donna Britt has passed away,” the statement said. “Donna was an incredible force for good in both our newsroom and the Baton Rouge community. She will be dearly, dearly missed. Please keep her family in your prayers.”
After a brief stint in local radio — including the first female DJ as WYNK — Britt started her career at WAFB in 1981, embarking on a near four-decade run that saw her become one of the most trusted sources of information in the Greater Baton Rouge area.
Beginning as a weekend reporter, she worked her way through the ranks until eventually being promoted to anchor the station’s premier newscasts alongside veteran news anchor, George Sells.
Together, the duo made WAFB’s newscasts some of the highest news ratings in the entire country.
Along with being a fixture on local television screens, Britt became a fixture at local community events. Her involvement included regularly ringing the Salvation Army Christmas bell, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, emceeing community events, and volunteering for the Boy Scouts, among others.
In Livingston Parish, she served as a guest speaker for the Denham Springs Kiwanis Club, narrated the Tri-Parish Ballet’s Christmas performance of “The Nutcracker” on occasion, spoke at local schools, and participated in numerous fundraisers.
Britt retired from WAFB in the summer of 2018, roughly a year after she was diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that leads to loss of muscle control, paralysis and, eventually, death.
In 2016, Britt had began to lose the use of the muscles on top of both of her feet, making it necessary for her to use a cane. Britt continued to work, though she eventually needed a wheelchair to get around and a special addition was added to the news set to allow her to anchor from her wheelchair.
Within months, however, she was unable to continue to deliver the news as ALS was slowly robbing her of the very voice her career depended on.
Britt announced her diagnosis to viewers during WAFB’s 6 p.m. newscast on July 27, 2017.
“I’d like to share some personal news with you tonight,” she said. “I have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. For the last nine months, doctors have tried to diagnose it, however many of the symptoms are the same for other diseases. But three days of testing at Houston Methodist Hospital have removed doubts. So, now I know what’s been paralyzing muscles all over my body all these months and shows no signs of stopping.”
Following her diagnosis, thousands of viewers and well-wishers showed up for “Donna Britt Day,” a charity event hosted by Chef John Folse to raise money for ALS research.
Surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues, Britt signed off the air for the final time on June 13, 2018.
Since her diagnosis, Britt continued to deliver information, informing many about the realities of living with ALS and counseled numerous families who have loved ones struggling with the disease.
According to The Advocate, Britt is survived by her husband, son Louis Ballard and daughter and son-in-law Anne and Alec Yonika.