By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Pioneering U.S. journalist Barbara Walters, who paved the way for women in television news and was the first female to co-anchor a network evening news program, retired on Friday after an illustrious 53-year career.
The 84-year-old TV newswoman bid farewell on “The View,” the morning talk show she created in 1997 during a career that spanned events ranging from President Richard Nixon’s historic journey to China in 1972 to interviews with several generations of celebrities and world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama.
Walters, whose work won several Emmy awards, joked that she would now have time to have Botox and may be available for supermarket openings. On a serious note, she added that she was proudest of how more women are now reporting the news.
“If I did anything to help that happen that is my legacy,” she said. “Who knows what the future brings? Maybe instead of goodbye, I should say a bientot, which in French means see you later.”
A roster of women journalists joined Walters on the show to praise her achievements. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also appeared, as did actor Michael Douglas and TV host and media company owner Oprah Winfrey.
“Like everyone else I want to thank you for being a pioneer, in everything that word means,” Winfrey told Walters. “It means being the first … to knock down the door, to break down the barrier, to pave the road that we all walk on.”
The show culminated a week of events including a get-together in New York that included former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, director Woody Allen and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
The news building of the ABC television network, a unit of Walt Disney Co., was named in her honor. Present and past co-hosts of “The View” reunited to toast her on Thursday. ABC will also air a news special about her story on Friday evening.
Walters revealed her plans to retire a year earlier saying it was her decision. The announcement followed some health problems, including a concussion after fainting and hitting her head, chickenpox and open heart surgery in 2010.
Walters has interviewed every U.S. president since Richard Nixon and world leaders including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. She was famous for her probing style, getting that important first interview with newsmakers.
She was also known for a lisp that prompted the famous “Baba Wawa” parody by the late comedian Gilda Radner on the “Saturday Night Live,” comedy show.
Walters was hired as a researcher and writer on NBC’s “Today” show in 1961 before becoming a co-host in 1974. She moved to ABC in 1976 and was a also correspondent on the network’s news magazine show “20/20.” Walters also hosted specials and a yearly show about her 10 most fascinating people.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by David Gregorio)