JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A woman who helped shape countless lives and more than 30 years of news coverage in Jacksonville died Thursday morning.
Longtime executive producer Sharon Siegel-Cohen lost a courageous battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.
She was 62.
A Jacksonville native and a friend to hundreds, Sharon made a huge difference in countless lives, eventually becoming an advocate for a cure for the muscular disease.
“It is wonderful to see all of the smiling faces today,” Sharon said while speaking at an ALS Foundation Walk last year.
A wife, a mother, a journalist, a warrior, Sharon remained optimistic despite the deadly prognosis.
“I’m hanging in,” she said recently when anchor Melanie Lawson visited her at home. “Some days are better. Right now you brought a good day on.”
Sharon greeted everyone with a smile, a hug and a joke because she felt people shouldn’t take life too seriously.
She was notorious for her birthday songs and farewell serenades when a member of our TV family left. She roasted colleagues in her own quirky way, often through parodies of popular songs.
Sometimes, the News4Jax family sang back.
“She is like no other so we’ll sing to her today, hey!” The Morning Show belted out on air for her birthday in 2018. “Sharon’s Day, Sharon’s Day, her birthday is today.”
One of a kind: caring, compassionate, comical, Sharon even attempted a short rap career with her son, Martin, for his high school prom. The two were incredibly close.
Despite her humor, telling important stories in our community was no laughing matter for the lifelong journalist, who started at WJXT in 1979 after graduating from Wolfson High School and the University of Florida. She left for a little while, but like so many of us, she came back to finish.
In 2000, Sharon and her team won a prestigious Peabody Award for ‘Behind Closed Doors,’ a locally-produced public service effort on the complex problems of domestic violence.
Her work was honored with countless Emmy, Associated Press and Edward R. Murrow awards. However, the real prize for her was making a difference. Little did she know, after decades of making the news, she’d become it, volunteering to be on the forefront of the fight against ALS shortly after her diagnosis.
“Originally I didn’t want to talk about this, I was in denial, but as a TV person, I felt that I was in a position, let’s get the awareness out,” Sharon proudly pronounced in a 2019 interview.
Diagnosed in 2018, she hosted walks with her team -- appropriately called Sharon’s Songbirds -- and fundraisers, fighting for more research and funding as she battled the deadly disease. She helped raise thousands of dollars for research and treatment options.
“I will remember her permanent cheerfulness even as she endured the ravages of ALS,” News4Jax anchor Tom Wills noted. “I truly believe she’s one of the best people God ever created.”
Alongside her every step of the way: her son, Martin, and husband Joel, the love of her life and primary caregiver. When Joel passed away unexpectedly in the middle of the night last October, that was the last time she could produce The Morning Show — a program she helped pioneer with a team she loved to work with.
“Don’t make us cry, Vic,” she said on the show, reminding people to stay positive despite somber circumstances.
“I worked with Sharon for more than 20 years and I can tell you she was always a bright light in our newsroom,” anchor Jennifer Waugh said. “Kind, thoughtful, really funny, and we will miss her beyond words.”
In her final months, family and friends supported Sharon with a party in her honor, home visits and meals and frequent phone calls.
“I wanna know, what do you do all day?” Lawson asked recently during a visit.
“Well I would show you, I rollerblade,” Sharon said comically, pointing to the window next to her home health chair.
In recent weeks, with the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, those who loved Sharon resorted to sending videos and uplifting messages.
Toward the end, she couldn’t talk, but she could listen — and smile. Her parents, Eddie and Helen Siegel, said she felt and appreciated the love.
Thursday morning, on the first day of Passover, Sharon took her last breath, leaving this world peacefully while leaving her community a better place.
“Five days a week, Sharon and I were together, she was family,” anchor Bruce Hamilton said somberly after her passing. “She’s not suffering anymore and she lives on in the heart of everyone in this newsroom.”
Sharon remains an inspiration to so many.
“She never complained,” recalled anchor Mary Baer. “I’ve never heard her complain through the 28 years I’ve known her. And she never complained at the end, truly an inspiration.”
As Sharon always said, the show must go on, and it did on Thursday — just how she would have wanted.
“She was a part of all of our lives,” Lauren Verno said Thursday morning on the show Sharon used to produce. “She brought brightness every single day.”
Sharon taught everyone to cherish the good times, to keep the faith, and to appreciate every moment, in darkness and in light.
“Despite the challenge of this disease, I feel like the luckiest woman on the face of this earth,” she said before the cheering crowd at her 2019 ALS walk. “I am inspired by the dignity, the courage and the grace of people who have dealt with this a lot longer than I have.”
Sharon is survived by her parents Eddie and Helen Siegel who live in San Jose, her son Martin, who is in dental school, and her sister, Frances, in Atlanta.
“More than a mother, she was my best friend, my biggest cheerleader and comedy partner,” Martin said. “Over the past few days, the outpouring of support from her Facebook community has provided comfort, knowing she was loved by many. She will be remembered as a warm-hearted, kind, compassionate, funny person, and more.”
Her family said they are discussing ways to remember her.
We crowdsourced dozens of condolences from Sharon’s Facebook profile. Here are the 12 words loved ones used most frequently to describe their memories of Sharon.