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Gillen ’77 Remembered as Formidable Journalist Who ‘Put Words Into Action’

black and white portrait of Michele Gillen in fur coat
Michele Gillen in her Emerson yearbook photo. Gillen went on to win 39 Emmys as an investigative reporter. Photo/Emerson College Archives

Michele Gillen ’77, an investigative reporter who won 39 local Emmys for her work exposing injustice in South Florida, died of natural causes earlier this month, the Miami Herald reports. She was 66.

“Michele was an incredible journalist whose legacy will live on forever,” said Dr. Marsha Della Giustina, associate professor in the Journalism department. “She cared deeply about the world and put her words into action.”

Gillen was valedictorian of her Emerson class, according to the Herald. She got a job reporting at a Bangor, Maine, station right out of college, and worked there for three years before landing in Miami, where she would spend the next four decades of her career, save a couple of years in Los Angeles, at various stations.  

Through her reporting, Gillen exposed dangers in elder housing, abuse of children in state care, human trafficking in South Florida, cancer among firefighters, poor treatment of people with mental illness in Miami prisons, and poverty among Holocaust survivors, the Herald reports.

Her work led, in some cases, to legislation being passed, and in many cases to local Emmy Awards and other accolades, according to the obituary.

Gillen was a student leader at Emerson, serving as vice president of the Student Government Association, and was respected by both her classmates and the College administration, Della Giustina said. As she progressed through her career, Gillen remained in touch with Emerson, serving on boards and advising faculty, administration, and students, Della Giustina said in an email.

Black and white yearbook photo showing Gillen arguing case to judge in mock trial
Michele Gillen was an attorney in a mock trial during Gary Grossman’s First Level Interdisciplinary Studies program at Emerson in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Gary Grossman.

“She didn’t stop with Emerson, but took on the world, helping underserved, hurting children be healed with her projects. So many of us are left hurting without Michele here, but her spirit and legacy live on in each one of us,” said Della Giustina. 

Trustee Gary Grossman ’70 taught Gillen in a First Level Interdisciplinary Studies program at Emerson, and said he knew she was “destined for greatness.” They stayed in touch over the years, and right before the pandemic hit, were discussing Gillen, through Grossman’s contacts, talking to the FBI about human trafficking, a topic she had covered extensively in Miami.   

“She was a gem. A true force of nature. A friend and thought leader,” Grossman said in an email.

Gillen also pursued justice for herself and her fellow women journalists when she sued CBS for age and gender discrimination after the Miami affiliate declined to renew her contract in 2018. The case was settled the following year, the Herald reports.

“Michele was an immensely talented alum with an innate ability to connect with the human element of any story. Her success as a journalist, paving the way for more opportunities for women in the field, is a legacy for all at Emerson who relish the art of storytelling,” Communication Studies Chair Greg Payne said. “Emerson is a much better college [for] Michele’s love for our students and mission.”

Read the Miami Herald obituary.

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