MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - After nearly two decades of waking up the River Region with her bright smile and infectious laughter, WSFA 12 News Anchor Tonya Terry is preparing for a new chapter in life.
Tonya announced to viewers on Monday that she is leaving WSFA 12 News after more than 18 years.
“I was thinking if I don’t do it now, I will be too old and to scared to step out on faith and see what God has in store for me,” she explained, adding that “I am so glad I walked through the doors at WSFA all those years ago.”
Tonya came to WSFA in September 2002 to anchor Today in Alabama, one of the nation’s top-rated local morning newscasts. Already a professional in the news industry, she had spent five years in Huntsville where she worked as a news anchor and reporter at both the ABC and CBS affiliates. She’s also worked at television and radio stations in Troy, Dothan and Enterprise.
“Tonya grew up in Troy watching WSFA, and it was a dream of hers to work here,” said News Director Scott Duff.
And WSFA 12 News is where she has spent most of her professional career.
“My time at WSFA has shaped who I am,” Tonya explained. She has risen at 2:30 a.m. for decades to helm thousands of newscasts and cover breaking news events, live remote broadcasts and many special projects along the way.
While she admits her future won’t involve getting out of bed quite that early anymore, it will be one of the things she’ll miss the most about the job, “just waking people up.”
“I never, ever took that for granted, and I will miss it,” she said as her smooth, typically unflappable voice cracked as she held back a flood of emotions.
Tonya has sat beside co-anchor Judd Davis since his arrival at WSFA 12 News in 2004.
“I will miss him most of all,” she said, sharing the story of the first time they met during his audition for one of several possible newscasts he would potentially be hired for.
After the audition, someone asked Tonya how long she’d known Judd, who had just flown in from Idaho to interview for the position.
“No one believed me that we had never met each other before!” Tonya insisted.
From the beginning, the two have had on-air chemistry like no other, sharing the ability to cover serious topics while also mixing in the fun and energy that helps put viewers in a good mood as they prepare for their day ahead.
“Judd helped me balance things out because we talked about some pretty heavy stuff,” Tonya explained of the newscasts.
“We had some of our best moments during commercial breaks when, thank goodness, the cameras were not on,” Judd laughed while recalling memories. “We went from co-worker to family pretty quickly. We have shared so much, went to parents’ funerals.”
The last year has been particularly hard for the duo, who were excited to move into the new WSFA studios on Dexter Avenue in March 2020. Just a week into their new spaces, the pandemic forced major changes.
Over the last year, and despite continued co-anchoring that has them on the same TV screen, they’ve only managed to see each other in person once. That was at an event in which they had to stand far apart.
“I was surprised,” Judd said when he learned of Tonya’s news “We don’t get to talk every day like we had the last 16 years. It’s been hard to catch up.”
“The pandemic made me look at my life,” Tonya explained of her decision to step away. “I got really reflective.”
On Monday, her final broadcast marked the first time in more than a year that the two were able to anchor together in-studio.
“The connection that we had on-air will be very tough to recreate,” Judd admitted.
Tonya and Judd have extended their duties through the years to anchor WSFA 12 News’ Alabama Live! midday community show and noon broadcasts. She’s been the face of WSFA’s Class Act franchise to recognize deserving teachers, and she’s been the life of the party for hundreds of kids attending the station’s monthly Sketch the Sky parties.
“It’s always been about the viewer,” Judd explained. “Anyone can read the news, but to connect with the viewer and make them smile is harder.”
“Our viewers, gosh they are so loyal, so sweet,” Tonya added about some of the messages she’s gotten through the years.
Of the thousands of people Tonya has interviewed over the years, she says her most memorable interview was with Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, French siblings known as the Les Twins. The duo are dancers, choreographers, producers, models, designers, and more.
“I love them,” she said. Their positive energy, love of life, work ethic and the way they take such good care of their family and friends has inspired to no end!”
Questioned about her most memorable local interview, Tonya didn’t miss a beat.
“One of my favorite people I ever interviewed was Bob Riley. What an effective leader, what a cool guy,” Tonya said. “I really liked how he moved the state forward.”
When she wasn’t in the anchor seat or interviewing famous people, Tonya made the community her priority. She made numerous appearances at schools, churches, football games and other events around the River Region.
“I have met some of the nicest people,” she said. “I have spoken at some great events where my knees were shaking behind the podium.”
“Tonya is one of the very best I have ever worked with on-air,” Duff added. “I truly and sincerely appreciate her dedication to the community, as she has hosted so many events for the station over the years and endeared herself to our viewers and community.”
“Everybody who would come up in public always wanted to know if she was as funny or as sweet as she is on TV,” Judd said.
And her natural ability to flawlessly adlib a developing situation with the glaring studio lights and thousands of viewers watching was never lost on her co-workers.
“That is a true talent,” Duff stated, a sentiment Judd echoed.
“We will greatly miss Tonya Terry’s dedication to WSFA, her effervescence, and of course her beautiful smile,” said WSFA 12 News Vice President and General Manager, Mark Bunting. “I can also say without hesitation that Tonya will be missed by our viewers. We are so grateful for Tonya’s 18 years of service here at Channel 12, and I sense that whatever she chooses to do next she will be highly successful. On behalf of everyone here at WSFA we wish her all the best.”
“I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I feel like God has something out there that’s better than I could have ever imagined,” Tonya said.
You can expect she’ll do a lot of reading, laying on the beach and playing with her grandchildren for the foreseeable future, though.
“I am so happy. I’m gonna miss everybody, but I’m super excited to see what’s next.” Tonya added.