Longtime WJLA news anchor Kathleen Matthews will leave Channel 7 in November for a corporate job with Marriott International, the station announced yesterday.
Matthews will join the Bethesda-based hotel company to become executive vice president of global communications and public affairs. The financial terms of the job were not disclosed.
"I was ready for a stretch at this point in my life," Matthews, 52, said yesterday. "I was attracted to the challenge."
WJLA President and General Manager Fred Ryan said yesterday that he was surprised when Matthews approached him recently about her plans to leave. "Our hope had been that she would remain with us for many years," he said. "She would have a long future with us."
Ryan said the station will launch a nationwide search for her replacement. "We'll look in Washington, we'll look at television stations across the country and we'll look at the networks," he said.
Matthews and Leon Harris co-anchor WJLA's 5 p.m. newscast and co-host the Sunday morning newsmagazine "Capital Sunday." The 5 p.m. newscast has become competitive in recent years. In the May sweeps period, the newscast was second to WRC (Channel 4) but won the time slot among 25-to-54-year-old viewers that advertisers cherish.
After her departure, Matthews plans to contribute special reports for WJLA and to appear on "Metropolitan Edition," WJLA's occasional prime-time newsmagazine.
Matthews has worked for Marriott before. She interviewed Chairman J.W. "Bill" Marriott in 2002 for an in-house video for the company's 75th anniversary. "I was so impressed with the approach she took and the way she handled the interview, and the fact that she came equipped with all kinds of knowledge," Marriott said yesterday.
Matthews has emceed events for Marriott Foundation's "Bridges . . . From School to Work" program, which provides young disabled people with jobs. She said that her new position will take her to China, India and the Middle East and that her role will be to market Marriott as "an iconic American brand."
"Chris and I love to travel . . . and I haven't done it with work that much because I've raised three kids in the process," said Matthews, whose husband is "Hardball" host Chris Matthews.
She began her career at WJLA as a production assistant in 1976, working her way up to producer. She became an on-air reporter in 1982 ("I had long, hippie-style hair and no makeup," she said).
Matthews has won nine local Emmys and the Edward R. Murrow Award, and was named Washingtonian magazine's Washingtonian of the Year in 2002. Two years later, she received a Harvard University teaching fellowship. She also hosted the nationally syndicated "Working Woman" magazine show for five years.
In recent years, she's co-anchored the station's 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts in various combinations and, at times, has co-anchored all three.
Harris announced Matthew's departure during last night's 5 p.m. newscast and joked: "Do we have to salute you now, vice president?"
"That sounds pretty good, doesn't it," she responded with a laugh.