By Lisa Dumas
Janet Lomax has become a Rochester icon over the past 35 years. She’s been everything from a trusted steward of journalism; to an impassioned volunteer in the community; and a role model for viewers who’ve grown up watching her throughout the years.
In addition, she recently celebrated 35 years at WHEC-TV, a career she began in February of 1980; first as a news reporter, then as the first black, female weeknight news anchor in the Rochester area. And, according to Lomax, it’s been hard work and perseverance that’s kept her in the forefront of the journalism world ever since.
“My parents always told my sisters and I that we could be anything we wanted to be, if we were willing to work hard for it,” she stated. “So, when I got a job in T.V. news, I simply focused on learning the business, and working hard. I focused on doing my job to the best of my ability. So, it is those things that brought me to this point. I don’t want to say it was hard, or wasn’t hard; it was just simply what I was taught to do. To work hard, and do our best. And, to be named anchor of a major newscast, was a joy. And, I worked hard, and continue to work hard, in that position.”
Lomax said she fell in love with journalism after visiting one of the local television stations in her hometown of Louisville, Ky., during her junior year in high school. And, she said it was then she decided to enter the field of television production.
“I think, actually, when I was in high school, in eleventh grade, I was doing some professional children’s theater work in my hometown of Louisville, Ky.,” she stated. “And, one of our productions was chosen to be on T.V. And, I remember walking into the studio, and kind of falling in love with what I saw. And, I thought I would work behind the scenes. When I went to college, that’s what I majored in, but, I also found that I loved the writing as well, so I did a double major. So, I guess I really fell in love with journalism once I went to college. I majored in radio, and T.V. production, and then journalism as well.”
However, after college, Lomax said she had taken a job at a station in Kentucky for four years, prior to being offered the position at WHEC. And, once she accepted the position, initially, she said she’d only planned to stay in Rochester for one year.
“Well, you know what, I was working at WAVE-TV3 in Louisville a week after graduation, and I was there four and a half years,” she stated. “But, I got a phone call one day from a Warren Doremus in Rochester, N.Y. So, they flew me up here, and we chit-chatted, and I liked what I saw. So, it was a job offer that brought me from Louisville to Rochester. I left my family there, and I knew no one here except Warren Doremus.”
Nonetheless, according to Lomax, eventually, she adjusted to the area, and the cold weather. Then, by 1982, she had been promoted to the position of weeknight anchor, and Lomax said the opportunity, as well as the fact that she enjoyed living in Rochester, were two of the many reasons she decided to stay in the area.
“In 1982, I was promoted to six o’clock, and 11 o’clock news anchor,” she stated. “So, being appreciated, and valued, by the station was one reason I decided to stay. Also, Rochester is a great city; there are good people here. And, it’s a warm, inviting community. So, wonderful opportunities were afforded to me, and then the community itself. I liked the community.”
In addition, Lomax said, over the years, she’s seen many instances of change throughout Rochester’s community.
“When I first came here, of course midtown was booming,” she stated. “You had midtown mall. You had Sibley’s. It was so convenient. And, of course, over the years, you had Kodak, and Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb. So, that’s a major change, in terms of the landscape of downtown Rochester. Also, when I came here, Mayor Ryan was in office. Since then, we’ve seen the first African-American, male mayor, and, now, the first African-American, female mayor. That’s a change. So, those are a couple of changes I’ve seen over the years.”
Also, Lomax said she’s done many memorable interviews over the years, with prestigious guests like Ellen DeGeneres, and Michelle Obama. In addition, she said she’s also interviewed guests who may have been less well-known. However, in the end, Lomax said it’s the story of the person whom you’re interviewing, whomever it may be, that counts.
“Well, of course, the interview with the first lady is one that’s stood out,” Lomax stated. “I couldn’t help but think of my parents who, perhaps in their lifetime, never thought they would see an African-American president. And, I know that when President Obama first announced he was running, my mother said, ‘He’s going to win;’ and she documented everything that he did. We have all of these newspaper clippings, and newspaper articles, and pictures. She documented that race. The interview with the first lady was major for me. But, I’ve also enjoyed meeting people here in Rochester. I remember, there was a gentleman, and he made beautiful bird houses. We went to do an interview with him, and I met his family, and we stayed in touch until he passed. I think he even made me a bird house. Just ordinary, regular people with beautiful stories, those are the people that stand out. I’ve interviewed a lot of big names, and that’s been wonderful, but I also enjoy interviewing people that I meet every day.”
In addition, Lomax said, remembering to focus on your community is a trait every journalist should have, and it’s one aspiring journalists should be sure to keep.
“I would say to new journalists, or to anyone hoping to become a journalist, ‘Work hard and do your best,’” she stated. “Volunteer for projects, contact television stations, or newspapers. Ask if they have a shadowing program, and read, read, read. And write. And, that sounds simple, but, reach out, make friendships, make connections, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If this is something that you truly want to do, be prepared to put in long hours. Be prepared to pay your dues in this business. When I started in Louisville, I was working with seasoned professionals. I had to shoot my own stuff, I had to edit. I worked nights. I volunteered. You know, I’d say, ‘I’ll do that; I’ll take that assignment.’ If you’re in college, volunteer to work at college stations. If you have a radio, or T.V. station, or college paper, be prepared to spend some time there, because you have to love this business. Sometimes, people think they’re getting into it so they can become a star, but; it’s about looking at one’s community, and highlighting the good. And, it’s about working hard, and it’s about learning your craft.”
According to Lomax, it’s also important to give back to your community. As a result, she said she’s been involved with several local, non-profit organizations for years, including the Rochester Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc.; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ); and RABJ, NABJ’s local affiliate.
In addition, she said she’s also been a member of the Rochester chapter of The Links, Incorporated for over a decade.
According to the organization’s website, The Links is a volunteer service organization of women who are “committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.”
“I have been a member of the Rochester, N.Y. chapter of The Links for more than a decade,” Lomax stated. “And, I knew many of the members, but I always appreciated the fact that this organization gives back to the community. There are various facets within this organization. There’s an arts facet; there’s a services to youth facet. There’s an international, and national, health focus. And, this organization has been here in Rochester for more than a quarter of a century. And, it’s all about giving back. And, I think that’s one of the reasons why I joined.”
And, in addition to participating in local non-profit organizations, Lomax said she also likes to spend time reading books and watching old movies.
“I love old movies from the 1940s and 1950s,” she stated. “I love reading; I get excited when new books come out. When I go in a bookstore, I’m like a kid in a candy store. My husband bought me Kindle, and I do use that, but I still like the feel of a book.”
Lomax said some of her favorite authors and books include Greg Iles, “especially his Penn Cage novels;” Min Jin Lee, and her book “Free Food for Millionaires;” as well as “any book by Terry McMillan.”
In addition, she said some of her favorite movies include “Bell Book and Candle,” with James Stewart and Kim Novak; “All That Heaven Allows,” with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson; and “any movie with Bette Davis in it.”
Ultimately, Lomax said she has been honored to have been working at WHEC for the past 35 years, as well as volunteering in the community, and she has also appreciated the many congratulations she’s received from her NBC “Today Show” colleagues, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, former WHEC colleague and freshman senator Rich Funke, and many others regarding her anniversary.
“It was a wonderful feeling,” Lomax stated. “It’s always nice to have your work noticed, and certainly appreciated by your viewers, and by notables like Maggie, and Matt Lauer and the Today Show group, and Rich Funke. It was just…it was a sweet moment. And, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here in Rochester 35 years. It’s been 35 years, and it seems like just yesterday. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. But, it’s wonderful. I think it’s a wonderful achievement. I think that God places us where he wants us, and he placed me here for a reason, and that’s how I look at it. And, I am grateful to have been employed for 35 years here in Rochester.
In addition, with no retirement plans in the near future, Lomax said she plans to keep working hard for more years to come.
“At this point, I still enjoy doing what I’m doing,” she stated. “And, until I decide that it’s time to do something else, I’ll continue to do this. There’s always that great book inside of us, and, I always say, ‘I’ve got a great book I want to write.’ And, one day I’ll do that. But, for now, I’ll continue to come to 191 East Ave., and interact with some great co-workers, and a wonderful community.”