A Great Lady, a Bon Voyage

Jan 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Gretchen Babarovic, who was the late Peter Jennings’ executive assistant, left ABC News on Dec. 15 after 22 “never boring” years.

The two met through her college roommate, Margaret Osmer, who went on to be among the first news anchors on “Good Morning America.” But it would not be until after she married and divorced an architect and returned from living in England that she would be rescued from “a grisly job” by Mr. Jennings’ invitation to come work for him at ABC News early in his second stint as anchor of “World News Tonight.”

“It was quite a remarkable experience. We both kind of grew into it together,” said Ms. Babarovic, who studied to be an architect. “It was always a learning curve. He had this incredible, insatiable curiosity and he just passed it on to others. I absorbed it like a sponge.

“I had no desire to move on or do anything else. I loved working for him. He was difficult at times, but we also had a bond between us that made it quite comfortable,” Ms. Babarovic told The Insider on her last day at ABC News. “He allowed me a great latitude.”

The next day she would be in London, home of her

7-month-old first grandchild, her daughter Tina, an ABC News producer, and her son-in-law, cameraman Bart Price. The couple’s assignments in assorted hot spots have often put Ms. Babarovic in the position of being perhaps too keenly aware of the dangers attendant to their jobs. Indeed, mother calls daughter “the queen of the hellholes.”

After London, it’s off to Istanbul, and later to Paris, where the always impeccably turned out Ms. Babarovic plans to rent an apartment for a few months.

“It’s perfect,” said “World News” executive producer Jon Banner, for whom the image of Ms. Barbarovic and her “huge personality” in Paris is right out of Central Casting.

“It’s funny,” Mr. Banner said. “We’d be in places far flung and he’d get an e-mail from her on how he looked. Then we’d spend the next half-hour completely trying to change the shot for the next day. It drove us crazy, but he trusted her. He trusted everything she told him. He relied on her explicitly.

“While Peter was with us, the most often-heard words during the hours of 9 and 7 o’clock was ‘Gretch. Gretch, Gretch, Gretch. Gretch, love, can you get me so-and-so.’ She was indispensable to him.

“She’s already missed,” Mr. Banner said of the woman who helped so many at ABC News get through Mr. Jennings’ illness and death. “As we shed so many tears over the past eight months together, I think the last time we shed a tear was when she told me she was going to leave.”

“I love to travel,” Ms. Babarovic said. “We’ll see what’s out there for me to explore.

“I certainly don’t have to leave, by any means. But it’s time,” she said. “It’s time to go have my own adventure. Peter would approve, I think.”

Of that there can be no doubt.

Mr. Jennings also would approve her plans for after the trip, when she intends “to see what there is to do with my experience and my skills. One of the things I learned from Peter is that you don’t want to stop being part of what is going on in the world, and I just think I have things to offer people on the outside.”

No matter what else she does, Ms. Babarovic said, she’d like to help keep alive the legacy of Mr. Jennings, who died in August after a short battle with a ferocious lung cancer.

Mr. Jennings’s widow “Kayce and I have talked about that. We just haven’t … the dust hasn’t quite settled yet. And the [Jennings] children and I have talked about all of that a bit. And so when I come back and the dust settles a bit more, we’ll see what’s there.”

One thing that will be there, at the corner of West 66th Street and Columbus Avenue, will be a street sign designating the block of 66th Street on which ABC is the largest occupant Peter Jennings Way. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the bill last week. The sign will be posted in late January or early February.