Mississippi College

Department of Communication Honors WLBT's Barbie Bassett

October 19, 2007

Barbie Bassett is much more than the award-winning chief meteorologist at WLBT-TV 3 in Jackson. A mother with two children and a third on the way, a Christian, and active community volunteer, the Mississippi College graduate wears many hats.

For her many achievements in the media business, including seven years flying on a helicopter as a traffic reporter in metro Jackson and service to groups like the Girl Scouts, Bassett was honored at her alma mater Friday. The MC Department of Communication spotlighted the Marks native as its 2007 Alumna of the Year.

"I've always felt God called me into this profession," Bassett told a packed conference room of MC students and faculty at the Baptist Healthplex.

It's a profession where the pay isn't great, the hours are long and "a business that is very competitive," Bassett told MC students. It's a profession she first acquired a love for as an MC student after growing up on a farm in Quitman County.

On the farm in North Mississippi where corn, cotton, soybeans and catfish were plentiful, weather was always a vital concern to her family, Bassett said. It still is. Just ask her father, Harold Dean Wiggs, 68, who still farms, and her mother, Brenda Wiggs, the Quitman County circuit clerk. Her parents proudly looked on as they joined the MC audience Friday for the Bassett tribute. As pieces of cheese cake and glasses of punch were served, the morning reception for Bassett at the Healthplex was part of this weekend's Homecoming activities at the Christian university.

Bassett credits MC professors like Cliff Fortenberry, the chairman of the Department of Communication and former chairman Billy Lytal, for preparing her for the broadcasting industry. Her strong work ethic was evident during her college years on the Clinton campus in the early 1990s.

While still finding time for MC social clubs, theatre productions and dorm life, she racked up 21 hours per semester and finishing her degree in three years in 1993 before getting a master's in broadcast meteorology at Mississippi State University.

Her hard work of nearly ten years at WLBT-TV 3 led her to become the station's first female chief meteorologist four years ago (and one of only seven in the nation). The demanding job put her in the middle of the Jackson television station's 24/7 news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the horrific storm in August 2005 that devastated parts of Mississippi and Louisiana. "I hope Katrina opened up the eyes of everyone. Katrina is the new Camille," she said, referring to the storm battering the state in 1969.

Bassett, whose warm smile and upbeat attitude is a staple of her daily broadcasts, was the victim of severe weather herself when a tornado leveled portions of her subdivision in Madison County in 2001. It took her family months to rebuild after her home and those of dozens of her neighbors "looked like ground zero."

Living through such experiences changed the way she does her WLBT broadcasts. When giving out information to viewers about severe weather approaching, "I think of the people affected by it," she said. Bassett gives out helpful tips about precautions that Mississippians should take before the storms hit. When bad weather is about to strike the Magnolia State, "I sound more like a mother."

During her 30-minute talk, Bassett fielded questions about global warming, and balancing home life with her career. Fortenberry asked her what piece of advice she would give MC communication students.

That would be to "have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C," learn to be flexible and master a variety of job skills, she said. Like Bassett learned growing up on a Mississippi farm, it's a case of "don't put all your eggs in one basket." She touched on her efforts as part of a team helping with campaigns to fight breast cancer by growing and cutting her hair.

Bassett didn't leave her alma mater empty-handed. Fortenberry and MC Vice President for Academic Affairs Ron Howard presented Barbie Wiggs Bassett with a plaque as a distinguished MC graduate. She also received a copy of the new book "Mississippi College With Pride," by the late MC professor Charles Martin.

Before her presentation, MC students watched a video featuring WLBT anchors Howard Ballou and Maggie Wade and station general manager Dan Modisett, who all showered their colleague with kudos. Modisett, an MC graduate, said "Barbie is one of our key employees." Wade, another MC alum, agreed. "Barbie truly has a gift."

Mississippi College helped shape her success. "I knew the second I walked on campus that communication was for me," Bassett told the scores of communication majors squeezed into the conference room. "MC provided the same Christian foundation that they (her parents) provided at home."

PHOTO: WLBT-TV3 Chief Meteorologist Barbie Bassett is presented the 2007 Distinguished MC Alumna Award by MC Department of Communication Chairman Dr. Cliff Fortenberry.

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