By Rocko Jerome • Photos by Danny Alexander
The die was cast for David Mattingly very early. As a kid in Buechel during the sixties and seventies, one of his greatest joys was listening to his transistor radio, all the way from early mornings to late nights, nestled under his pillow. One of his favorite broadcasters was the incomparable Milton Metz. “It was a different time,” David says. “Milton treated callers with patience and respect regardless of their points of view. He asked good questions and was always interested in what the callers had to say. What I learned from his example served me well throughout my career.”
At age 9, he made his television debut on the Hayloft Hoedown, a locally produced music and variety series that was fun for the whole family, and still celebrated today by every Louisville Baby Boomer. Host and Louisville legend Randy Atcher asked him to tell a joke: “If all the cars in the United States were painted pink, what would you have?” the young Mattingly asked. The answer was “a pink carnation.” When the infamous 1974 tornado outbreak struck, young David found comfort in listening to Dick Gilbert report upon the dark day’s events. “We huddled under the basement steps with my dog and my brother,” David says. “I remember listening to the radio and hearing helicopter pilot Dick Gilbert deliver vivid descriptions of the tornado hitting the fairgrounds, the neighborhoods and Cherokee Park. Looking back, that was probably the moment I began to truly understand the importance of delivering information and telling the story. We all felt a sense of loss, but somehow, listening to that even-tempered voice on the radio offered a sense of comfort.”
"Whoever said you can’t go home again, never grew up here. Coming home after all of these years was one of the best decisions I ever made."
David’s roots in the bluegrass run deep. A seventh-generation Kentuckian and a fifth-generation Louisvillian, he remembers the torrent of adolescent angst that erupted when his dad’s job transferred him to Philadelphia and the family landed in Voorhees, New Jersey.
“At the time, I was not happy,” he says. “I loved going to high school at Seneca and the idea of leaving the only home I had ever known was a little hard to accept. But things actually worked out better than I could have ever expected.”
The first day at his new high school in New Jersey, David met the girl he would eventually marry.
“We were just 15 at the time but I knew she was special. Greta and I marched next to each other in band and I always had my eye on her. Sadly, I couldn’t work up the nerve to ask her out until our 10 year class reunion,” he said laughing. “We’ve been together ever since...another one of the best decisions I ever made.”
In the time between, David graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Alabama and the day after his last exam, he found himself reporting for CBS affiliate WCFT in Tuscaloosa. David would soon roll over to the NBC affiliate WVTM in Birmingham, where he would stay on for a full decade. He reported on environmental issues, producing a series of documentaries that would take him deep into the Amazon rainforests and win him his first Emmy awards.
It wasn’t long after that CNN would recruit him to co-host and report for a series of news magazine shows. But a historic day that changed all of our lives proved especially fateful for David. He was in Pennsylvania at his mother-in-law’s house, about to go fishing on September 11, 2001 when his attention was removed from his leisurely pursuits. Only about an hour from Shanksville, David became the first national news reporter on the scene after the fourth plane went down at the edge of a corn field. Like Dick Gilbert had done for him all those years before, David would bring a calm, informative voice to a horrifically chaotic situation.
After 9/11 David became a National Correspondent, traveling all around the world. The events on the world stage that David would cover from the scene are staggering to contemplate. From live reporting in dangerous hurricanes to grueling presidential campaigns including the historic Gore/Bush recount, David concentrated on bringing a sense of humanity to every high profile story he has ever covered.
About a year ago, his heart pulled him back to Louisville, where he has joined the WAVE 3 family. “I still get emotional about it,” he said. “It’s thrilling to know I’m walking the same hallways and anchoring in the same studio as the people I grew up watching like Livingston Gilbert, Tom Wills and ‘Uncle Ed’ Kallay,” says David. “Whoever said you can’t go home again, never grew up here. Coming home after all these years was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
A PORTABLE FITNESS ROUTINE
At 58, David keeps in great shape almost entirely through a moderate diet and cardio exercise. He is an avid hiker and, through his travels, has climbed in some very exotic locations. One of those excursions taught him a life lesson he’ll never forget:
“I raised my arms in a Rocky-like pose of triumph. I had just survived the climb to Dead Woman’s Pass, elevation nearly 14 thousand feet and the highest point on my trek of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was exhilarating.
But just thirty minutes later I wasn’t smiling. Oxygen deprivation had set in and my legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. I plodded down the steep decline into the next valley wondering with each step if my knees would give out and I would collapse and roll the next few miles to the bottom. Fortunately, with frequent stops and after eating and drinking everything I had in my backpack, I made it safely.
The thrill I felt at the top became a lesson in humility. When it comes to hiking, the old adage is true, as in life as it is in hiking — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” <