Sabrina Squire flashed back to her first job. She was meeting the daughter of her former boss, and she had a message.
"Your dad did me a huge favor" – one that "changed my life for the better," Squire told the daughter at a YWCA of Richmond event several years ago. His suggestion? That Squire leave her job in insurance – "I was miserable," she said – to find a career she would love.
That push led Squire to TV broadcasting, where she made a lasting and pioneering mark in Richmond. In 2018, Squire retired from NBC12 after 37 years at the station – 34 of them as a news anchor.
"There were times in my career where I was the first woman and/or first African-American hired for a position," Squire said. "I knew that I had these opportunities because others had marched, picketed, sacrificed, struggled and suffered to break down barriers and open doors."
That knowledge instilled in her a sense of pride and dignity, as well as the determination to succeed and give back. It also emboldened Squire "to insist upon equal opportunities as my male colleagues."
Karla Redditte, who took over Squire’s co-anchor position, refers to her predecessor as an icon.
"I think she had to overcome a lot of things for many of us today to be here," Redditte said. "Being a woman and being a black woman on television was a lot of pressure and responsibility for her, and she handled it with grace.”
Squire is a true local success story: The Richmond native graduated from Huguenot High School and Virginia Commonwealth University.
She started her media career in radio as a receptionist and became the first female announcer for WEZS. She later worked as a reporter for WSSV and Magic 99 in Petersburg.
"That was when I had the first opportunity to go out in the field and cover actual events in the Tri-Cities," she said. "It was energizing."
Squire began working at NBC12 in 1981 as an intern, but it took only a few weeks for her to become a general assignment reporter. In 1984, she was tapped to co-anchor the newscast with Gene Cox, making her the first African-American woman co-anchor in Richmond and one of the first in the country.
Cox said he learned a great deal from Squire in their decades together.
"I learned nuances that I wasn’t as tuned in to as I should be,” he said. "She was my governor. She was good guidance for me."
A multi-Emmy award winner, Squire was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame in 2010. She also earned honors from The Associated Press and the Virginia Association of Broadcasters for distinguished performance. In 2015, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Richmond Urban League and was named an RPS Living Legacy by the Richmond Public School Foundation.
Over the years, Squire covered major stories, including a trip to South Africa, the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. In the past eight years, her weekly "Acts of Kindness" segment let her introduce viewers to people in the community who showed compassion for others through their generosity.
Reflecting on her legacy, Squire said she is happy to see so many anchorwomen – black and white – on air in Richmond today.
"I'm proud that I worked in a newsroom that afforded men and women equal opportunities to showcase their skills," she said. "I salute those anchors and reporters who are sharing stories with more ethnic, racial and cultural diversity, expanding awareness of the beautiful mosaic that makes Richmond and America great."
And while a former boss once urged Squire to find her passion, a more recent boss is grateful that she did.
Kym Grinnage, vice president and general manager of NBC12, called Squire the most humble "superstar that I have ever met.
"She would be embarrassed that I would call her a superstar, but she is," Grinnage said. "She will always be the matriarch of the NBC12 family."
IN HER WORDS: SABRINA SQUIRE
retired news anchor, NBC12
Family: two daughters, one granddaughter
Tell us about a setback or disappointment and what you learned from it
I’d finally landed my first on-air job, working the graveyard shift (midnight to 6 a.m.) at a small FM radio station that played classic "elevator" music. I was the first African-American and first woman to have a regular on-air shift, and I was thrilled.
My boss, however, wasn’t happy with my performance. I was asked to change my name. I was told my tone was "too serious," then "too perky." I was admonished for letting the standard 60-second newscast run over, even by a few seconds.
My confidence plummeted. Every performance review was more and more demoralizing. After more than a year of trying different approaches in my struggle to get it right, there was still no sign my situation would improve.
Feeling dejected, I quit. I was uncertain I’d ever get a second job on-air. To my surprise, I quickly received multiple offers.
That experience ultimately strengthened my self-worth, and I established specific job criteria and boundaries. I learned I should never tolerate a job where my efforts are not validated, where my contributions are unappreciated and where I’m unfairly compensated.
If you had to pick a different profession or course of study, what would you choose?
I’d study different languages and use my linguistics skills in international relations. It would be exciting and enlightening to work as a tour director. I’d enjoy building connections, helping people better understand and appreciate the history and culture of people throughout the world.
Tell us about a funny, crazy or surprising moment on set from your anchoring days
People still inquire about a funny moment from a 6 p.m. newscast over 20 years ago. I was reading a story about a crime suspect whose last name was Newton. He also had an alias that was printed on the script. As I carefully pronounced the words – "Fig Newton" – I glimpsed my partner off camera, who was bent over the anchor desk laughing hysterically.
I had to say "Fig Newton" a few more times, and I could see the floor crew cracking up. That’s when I lost my composure, giggled and chuckled through that story, the next story and the next, until we had to cut to a commercial.
The boss was not pleased, but for weeks afterward, viewers dropped off boxes and cases of Fig Newtons at the TV station.
What is something about yourself that might come as a surprise to others?
Though I spent decades in an industry where the goal is engaging with lots of people, in my personal life I’m a bit of an introvert. Without a specific work assignment, I sometimes feel awkward at parties, receptions, etc. The idea of mingling, networking and making small talk can make me feel anxious.
What is something you haven’t done that you’d really like to do?
Visit different cities, diverse communities and major attractions in all 50 U.S. states.
What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
As a strength, I’m a great listener, and I'm genuinely interested in people’s experiences, opinions, upbringing, challenges, triumphs, hopes and fears. I believe that we all have something to teach and learn from one another.
A weakness would be my tendency to worry. Four decades of reporting on accidents, catastrophes, tragedies and plights of all kinds left me in a state of perpetual unease, always anticipating the next disaster. Generally, I have a heightened anxiety about the safety and welfare of loved ones.
If you could deliver a message to a large audience, what would it be?
It would be a message I delivered in a high school commencement address, which I think is applicable to all adults. Since the graduates had mastered the so-called three R’s of learning, I called it "The Three R’s of Living":
(1) Respect – for oneself and for the rights and property of others. (2) Responsibility – for your behavior. Own up to your actions, reactions, mistakes and misdeeds. (3) Reverence for doing the right thing - versus what is most profitable, popular or easy. Seek the greater good.
Who is your role model?
Roberta Hughes is wise, generous, compassionate and gracious. Over the years, I’ve been stopped numerous times on the street or at an event by people who’ve said, "Your mom was my supervisor at Philip Morris" or "I met your mom when she worked at the Kent-Valentine House." They invariably want me to send her a message of thanks for being kind and supportive and giving them great advice about work and life.
Mom absolutely loves planning and hosting events that bring lots of people together to celebrate. Her mission in life seems to be making people feel connected, valued, special. I feel blessed and very proud to be her daughter.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Trust your intuition. Listen to and honor that sixth sense – the faint or soft voice, that uncanny "knowing" or unsettling feeling in your gut. Acknowledge and heed all those red flags and warning signs.
What is your favorite thing about the Richmond region?
I love the feeling of Southern hospitality that is alive and well here. People smile, nod, say "hi ya doin'?" There’s a welcoming vibe that invites folk to come on over, hang out, stay awhile.
Whether it’s a block party, down-home reunion, marathon, bike race or festival, we’re keen to open the doors to the world and say, "Y’all come."
Describe a small moment in your life that has had a lasting impact on you
Some 30 years ago, I attended a weekend workshop at Yogaville, an ashram in Buckingham County. The workshop was titled "Power and Healing."
During one visualization activity, this group of about 12 strangers worked in pairs. Our instructions were to think of a question we wanted our partner to answer through visualization. We could not reveal our questions until the exercise was complete.
In a softly lit room, the pairs lay on the floor, feet facing each other, as the workshop leader continued his rhythmic drumming. After several minutes, the drumming stopped, and we were asked to sit up, face our partner and reveal the answer gleaned from our visualization. I said to the stranger: "Lady, I’m sorry, this is bulls--t."
"Just tell me what you saw," she replied – and it was as if someone turned on a movie projector in my head. Images flooded my brain.
Amazed, I haltingly explained that I saw a woman in a dark room dressed in all white, except for a red cross on her chest. The stranger said, "Well, you know I am a nurse." I said, “Oh, s--t!”
I continued explaining my visualization, telling her that the woman was accompanied by a tall man dressed in black robes. They walked together, gazing at rows of emaciated bodies. Occasionally they stopped to touch someone, and the person would be bathed in light and pop up from the floor.
After I finished, my partner revealed that in addition to being a nurse, she was a cancer survivor. She was now in remission and wanted to work helping other cancer survivors heal.
She said she had been raised a devout Catholic, and her question was whether she should combine her religious background with her medical training as she worked to help cancer patients. My visualization, she said, provided the answer.
I wondered, what in the heck had just happened! Was this ESP, mind-reading? I couldn’t understand what or how, but I was clear that this did happen to me, to my brain.
This mind-blowing experience has taught me to be open to infinite possibility, to consider the unimaginable – or, as I saw in a quote years later, to "contemplate the unfathomable.”