After 21 years at Baltimore's WMAR, Mary Beth Marsden, the face of Channel 2 news, signed off for the last time from the station's anchor desk Wednesday night.
She said goodbye to area viewers at the end of the 6 p.m. newscast with the same sense of fun and easygoing grace that distinguished her long career.
"Twenty-one years. Fifteen hairstyles. One for every news director," she said in narration over an evocative three-minute package of clips that stretched back to her earliest days at WMAR and closed her last newscast. Her writing captured Marsden's ability to kid herself and a local TV news industry that often seems to take itself too seriously.
Marsden's exit is part of a larger story of transition and upheaval at Baltimore's ABC affiliate, as union employees weigh buyout offers from the station's owners, the E.W. Scripps Company. Like Marsden, anchorman Terry Owens has also accepted an offer and is leaving the station at the end of the week after 17 years. More departures are expected.
In a larger sense of media history, the 48-year-old anchorwoman's last broadcast is yet one more sign that the industry is at the end of an era that saw TV news anchors spending decades at the same station.
"I feel good about it," Marsden said of her decision yesterday. "It's the right time for this, and it feels like good closure. ... Sure, it's a little sad, but I am also excited and relieved."
WBAL newscaster Stan Stovall, who co-anchored with Marsden during 1990s at WMAR when the station was a heavyweight contender in the local news wars, said, "Mary Beth's departure is sad in a way for Baltimore, because Baltimore viewers develop a familiarity with TV and they become accustomed to it. Mary Beth has been a big part of that familiarity for more than 20 years. And so, I think people are going to feel a real sense of loss when they suddenly don't see her on the air."
But Stovall, who left Channel 2 in 2001, said he believes Marsden is happy with her decision to leave.
"She feels like she has reached a point in her life where it's time for a change," he said. "I certainly know firsthand how that feels, having worked in that shop for 13 years. ... I'm sure she felt good about her job, but she didn't feel real good about the situation."
Marsden has been carrying a huge load lately, serving as sole anchor for the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. She even fronted sports stories and read scores because the station no longer has a full-time sports anchor.
The mother of three says she is looking forward to spending the holidays with her husband and children free of work worries. "That's a real gift," she adds.
Marsden brought her three children, two brothers and parents onto the set Wednesday night after the video trip down memory lane. She hugged longtime colleagues Norm Lewis and Jamie Costello as they walked onto the set to say goodbye.
After the holidays, Marsden says, she's "open to possibilities." She is not bound by any kind of no-compete clause and can go to work anywhere she wants in Baltimore.
And while Wednesday was Marsden's last night on-air for Channel 2, she said she is cutting herself a little slack in hopes of easing her rite of passage.
"When I walk out today, my desk is going to be anything but clean," Marsden said. "I have taken home nothing. I told some people, 'Just pretend I'm on vacation, and I'll just do this slowly.' ... There's a sense of comfort about just sort of slowly making my way out."