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By LARRY VAUGHT
If you are a Kentucky football or basketball fan, you likely know WLEX-TV (Channel 18) sports anchor Mary Jo Perino. She’s been a smiling face that openly roots for the Big Blue but yet comes across as knowledgeable and fair and not a homer.
Soon she’ll be leaving her job to pursue other opportunities that will make it easier for her to spend time with her 7-year-old son. Our loss is her gain and her son’s gain and how could you not be happy for her.
Still, after watching her for 10 years at WLEX (2002 to 2006 and then from 2007 until now after a brief stint in Atlanta), it’s not going to be quite the same without her.
Just ask Alan Cutler, the sports director at WLEX. He’s worked all 10 years with Perino and their Friday night high school football show was must-see TV because of the way they interacted. So what will he miss most once she’s gone?
“It’s not one story, it’s the one liners that go up and back. MJP is a closer. She’s great at making a comment that you can’t answer back because it’s on the edge. It’s funny and she knows I can’t respond because the response won’t be politically correct. And she knows exactly what she’s doing,” Cutler said.
She also worked with Ryan Lemond, now a co-host on the syndicated Kentucky Sports Radio weekday morning sports talk show, at Channel 18.
“Mary Jo is one of the my favorite co-workers of all time. It was always a joy to come to work when Mary Jo was there,” Lemond said. “Her desk was directly behind my desk, so it was always a treat for me to have a co-worker that was not only very, very talented, but also a very, very good friend.
“I’m so proud of her. I kind of feel like a ‘big brother’ to her at times, and I’ve just been very proud to see her grow as a broadcaster, a friend and as a mother.”
Tom Leach, the radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats, has been a Perino fan, too.
“Coaches always want energy from their players and that’s what Mary Jo has always brought to the UK sports scene, plus that wonderful smile. Hope we’ll see her in the crowd even though we won’t see her on press row,” Leach said.
WLAP Sunday Morning Sports host Mark Buerger has a different type best memory of Perino.
“I’ve been at my real job at Special Olympics for 11 State Summer Games events. Mary Jo has emceed the Opening Ceremonies at four of them. Every time I have asked, Mary Jo has made the trek to Richmond immediately after getting off the air to be a part of the event (which starts at 7 p.m. every year),” Buerger said. “She made it when they were doing construction on the Clays Ferry Bridge. She made it the day Jon Cohen announced he was leaving Kentucky for Mississippi State. And she made it the year I tried to give her a year off, but I had a late cancellation and called her a couple of days before the event.
“And every time she was there she took those Ceremonies just as seriously as she did a broadcast, was an absolute pro and was a big part of producing a great event for the more than 1,300 Special Olympics athletes who compete at the Games every year. We’ll miss having her there!”
But it wasn’t just those who knew Perino well who loved the way she did her job and will miss her as those of use in the media will. Just ask Theresa Salyer.
“We like that she is so personable, enthusiastic and easy to look at, in other words really good looking. She is so passionate about our Cats and you can tell she loves what she is doing,” Salyer said. “She is also very fair in her reporting about UK sports. She is great at the Derby and has taken to the Bluegrass state and loves our state like a native.
“Meeting her personally at the Kentucky Ohio Convention and then having her remember who I was two years later was special. I took our son, who is a great Mary Jo fan, to met her this year at the SEC Tournament and she was friendly and seemed to enjoy meeting any Cat fan.
“I love her smile, voice, just everything about her and she will be sorely missed by a lot of people. I would love to see her get back into the sports scene somehow or way. She has a lot of knowledge about a variety of sports and gives a fair report.”
Indeed she did and I’ll dearly miss seeing her not only at UK games, but at high school sports events. She was just as passionate about prep sports, and I loved that about her. Her smile could always brighten your day and on air she could always make you feel like she was talking directly to you. And athletes loved talking to her and it showed in the interviews she got on a regular basis. But mainly I’m going to miss seeing her in a professional capacity simply because she was such a good friend.
What about you? If you have seen her work or met her, let me know what you will remember or miss about Perino.