Sheila Toomey lived in New York City before she emigrated to Alaska in her late 30s to begin a life of adventure. A stranger in town, Toomey volunteered at Juneau Public Station KTOO in 1978 as a way to meet people. She had worked her way through City College of New York (CCNY) as a library assistant, so that’s what she did for KTOO radio — cataloged newly arrived 33 rpm records for their music library.
Then one day, one of the friends she made there dared Toomey to try her hand at radio news. Toomey says she was “dubious, to say the least.” She had never taken a journalism course and had nothing to do with broadcasting. “I could never do the news,” Toomey recalls saying. But she took a flyer, and it worked out. Ten years later, the Anchorage Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for a series that included a story by Toomey.
Toomey’s journalism impacted communities statewide, from Juneau to Anchorage to villages across Alaska. She won many awards during her long career, but odds are Toomey will be remembered for The Alaska Ear, a column she produced weekly for 30 years.Though Toomey retired from the newsroom years earlier, she kept writing the column until 2014. Daily News editors created it to humanize the political and community newsmakers whose names regularly appeared in the daily news.
When asked to sum up her accomplishments, Toomey said: “Long ago, I adopted Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ as a metaphor for my life. I never planned anything … my roads always included a job that at least paid the rent. How boring, how routine, right?” When asked how the journey was, she replied, “Lucky, fun, wonderful!”View Extended Bio