Terry Tazioli (BA, 1970): Journalist, TV host, philanthropic leader

tazioliTerry Tazioli (BA, 1970) has learned many lessons throughout life, but one that he’s held to through everything he does is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” or more frankly, “Screw everybody else, do what you believe in and just go!” This piece of advice came from his late sister, Kai Leamer, and it has given him the strength to do all that he has in his life. Because of his accomplishments, he is one of the newest inductees into the Department of Communication Alumni Hall of Fame.

“As she would say, ‘We only get one shot at this, so why the hell are you sitting on your butt?’” Tazioli said. As always, Tazioli makes sure his sister’s words don’t go unheard. One would have a hard time catching Taz, as he’s lovingly called by friends and family, sitting on his butt.

Since graduating from the former School of Communications with concentrations in advertising and marketing, Tazioli pursued a career in journalism beginning with earning his master’s in journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia. It was a graduate student program that solidified his interest. “I got to go to Washington, D.C., and report there for five months or so, and that just did it. I had so much fun I couldn’t stand it, and I thought this is what I want to do,” he said.

Since then, Tazioli has held many different positions in and out of the journalism field. He is a principal in Little Man Productions and is the host of Author’s Hour on TVW. For 14 years, he was editor of “Scene,” The Seattle Times’ nationally recognized lifestyle section. Prior to that, he was a TV-news assignment editor and then the producer of Top Story for KING-TV in Seattle. He worked at the East Side Journal in Kirkland, the Journal American in Bellevue, and he has taught news writing at the University of Washington and Bellevue Community College. Tazioli also founded the Kai Leamer Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children whose lives have been impacted by cancer.

Tazioli has worked on many projects throughout his career, but there are a choice few that he feels most proud to have been a part of. In 1990, while working on the “Scene” section for the Times, Tazioli and his colleagues met Robert O’Boyle, a young man living with AIDS. For a year and a half, the Times carried a column written by O’Boyle that detailed what life was like living with the disease. “We were the first major daily newspaper in the U.S. to do anything like that,” Tazioli said. “We got a lot of mail from people, both positive and negative, and people were calling us out of the woodwork every day.”

In January 1992, O’Boyle passed on, but his memory lived on among the people he reached with his column. When his death was announced, the Times provided a phone number that readers could call to provide their wishes and thanks to O’Boyle. “We got so many calls, I think, in the first hour it shut down the system,” Tazioli said. “That’s one of the things that I’m the proudest of. It’s one of the things we did that really set us apart as a features section from others in the country.”

In 1999, Tazioli had quite the ride when he and his team at the Times decided to run a story from the Washington Post headlined White Girl, by Lonnae O’Neal Parker. Parker, a journalist who identifies as black, wrote about what it was like living with her cousin Kim McClaren, who identifies as white.

“She talked about their experiences together, growing up, and really this incredible, complex, rich story,” Tazioli said. “We ran a blurb with it, and we asked folks to tell us their own stories: ‘We know there are mixed-race people, and we want to hear your own thoughts and experiences.’ We were flooded.”

Over the course of the next few months, this story sparked hundreds of conversations. Tazioli’s team wrote updates, and eventually Parker visited Seattle to meet with some of the people who had responded to her story. The Times sponsored a town hall on the subject, drawing nearly 300 people, with the crowd overflowing into the hallways. It was a whirlwind experience for Tazioli.

“It went over almost the course of a year that these stories kept churning and things kept happening,” he said. “We ended up on Nightline. The University of Missouri flew us in to talk about diversity and writing. That project showed what an impact newspapers and journalism can have on its fellow citizens.”

The project closest to his heart is the Kai Leamer Fund, which Tazioli and his family founded shortly after the death of his sister, Kai. Tazioli is director of the fund. “I guess what I’ve done is taken on my sister’s passions with people with cancer and kids. Those were big things with her,” he said.

The Kai Leamer Fund gives thousands of dollars in scholarships to kids in Washington state each year. In conjunction with Gilda’s Club Seattle, the Kai Leamer Fund awards winners of the essay contest, “It’s Always Something.” The contest asks children whose lives have been affected by cancer to write about their experiences. In the first year the Kai Leamer Fund was active, $3,500 was raised for the winning writers. Five years later, the fund is giving $10,000 annually.

“Giving back is a real big deal for me. It’s the way I was raised. It’s the way my mom and dad taught us,” Tazioli said. “Among all of that growing up, we were just taught social justice and taking care of each other. If you have a lot, then a lot is expected of you. So that’s kind of how I operate.”

Tazioli holds true to what he says, and his actions show it. Much like the Tasmanian devil, Tazioli goes nonstop, involving himself in numerous events and causes with the utmost goodwill. “I can’t stand to be left out of anything! I think the most important thing for me is there’s just too much to do, and while I’m here and while I’m healthy, how could I not do it all?”From his day-to-day jobs, to his volunteer projects, to making time for friends and family, Tazioli is in it all 100 percent.

He insists that it is the people in his life, past and present, who have pushed him to become the force that he is. His family members have always been supportive, “from the second I got on the planet. It’s just like every single step along the way there has been somebody who has either out loud or quietly said, ‘Yes you can,’” Tazioli said.

Even as an undergrad, before he knew he wanted to be a writer, people were standing behind him. June Almquist, the professor of his very first reporting class, practically predicted that Tazioli was not one to be doubted. “She would scare the hell out of me,” Tazioli said. “She would give you one grade for content in your stories, and another grade for punctuation, spelling, grammar, copy editing. It was not unheard of for two-thirds of the class to get an A and an E because you put in a dash where it should’ve been a hyphen.”

Fifteen years later, Tazioli walked into a job interview at the Seattle Times and, lo and behold, his interviewer was Almquist. During the interview, Tazioli mentioned he had taken a class from her at the UW, and she said she remembered. She proceeded to open a desk drawer and pull out a blue book, a notebook for writing test essays. “It was mine,” said Tazioli. “I had written this thing and she had kept it. I had gotten an A, thank God, and she said, ‘I knew you would be here one of these days, so I hung onto this.’”

“I adored that woman,” he said. “I learned a lot from her; just how to be aggressive and pushy and get what I want; and also to be accurate, accurate, accurate.  She was a real champ in my book at the UW.”

Although he may have settled on his major in communication, the last of six majors, Tazioli’s induction into the UW Department of Communication Alumni Hall of Fame is much deserved. “I am very honored and I guess just a little bit astonished to be in the company of all those folks who are already in the Hall of Fame.”

By Amanda Weber