J.C. Hayward’s last noon broadcast began like any other, with orchestral theme music and the top headlines of the hour.
It was Oct. 1, the first day of a partial government shutdown that would dominate Washington news for weeks, and there was Hayward, pivoting to lighter fare with a short take on two National Aquarium alligators heading to a new life in Louisiana. She then emerged from behind the WUSA (Channel 9) anchor’s desk to interview a cancer survivor whose story inspired a feature film.
These are the rhythms of local television news, the rhythms that have been at the center of Hayward’s days for most of her life.
Anchoring news broadcasts at WUSA for more than 40 years, she appeared in thousands of living rooms across the region, becoming a face and a name that Washingtonians recognized. She emceed countless charity fundraising galas, built a reputation for caring about the city she covered. Viewers came to trust her, and many came to feel as if they knew her.
And then she was gone.
Shortly before Hayward appeared on air that first day of October – dressed as glamorously as ever in a pale pink suit and a pair of towering slingback heels – the D.C. attorney general filed a lawsuit naming her as one of five people involved in an effort to divert millions of dollars from a city charter school for troubled teens.
As chairwoman of Options Public Charter School, the complaint said, Hayward allegedly signed off on lucrative contracts that funneled local and federal tax dollars to two for-profit companies founded and run by school managers. Hayward allegedly helped incorporate one of the companies named in the civil lawsuit, a company that according to several people familiar with the investigation is now under federal scrutiny.
WUSA officials placed Hayward on leave pending further investigation. She had promised on air that day to attend a movie screening later that night. She didn’t go, and she hasn’t appeared at a public event or on air since. It’s been 80 days.
Hayward’s lawyer, Jeffrey S. Jacobovitz, said she is innocent, unaware of the alleged self-dealing scheme. He said Hayward’s work for Options was just one example of the extensive volunteer work that has made Hayward a “stellar member of the D.C. community.”
It is unclear when Hayward might return to broadcasting, but WUSA has hinted that they’re waiting for the end of the Options legal wranglings. Mark Burdett, WUSA’s general manager described Hayward as “a leader in the community” who has been “a mentor to young people aspiring to work in TV for decades.”
“All of us here at WUSA are hoping for a speedy resolution to these legal proceedings,” Burdett said.
People close to Hayward said she is dividing her time between one condominium at Leisure World in Silver Spring and another near Fort Lauderdale. Her decades-old daily rhythm has been upended, her solid reputation unsettled. Her friends are unbowed.
“She’s the kindest and most giving person I have ever known,” said Tina Wright, who has known Hayward since they pledged the Delta Sigma Theta sorority at North Carolina Central University more than 50 years ago. “She wouldn’t take a dime from anyone.”
Hayward declined to be interviewed for this story. On Wednesday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Craig Iscoe is scheduled to consider Hayward’s request to be removed as a defendant in the civil lawsuit.
Hayward, now in her late 60s, made a name for herself in television news at a time when female anchors — and especially African American female anchors — were rare. Then she held on as generations of news directors and station executives came and went.
Her fans see her as a survivor, particularly after she announced on-air in April 2012 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. WUSA broadcast segments on Hayward’s treatment — an effort, she said, to raise awareness among other women.
Andrea Roane, who has worked alongside Hayward at WUSA for more than 30 years, said that she can’t imagine what her friend has gone through since the Options allegations surfaced. But “she’s strong, she has her faith, and she’s going to fight,” Roane said. “We’re all anxious for this to be resolved and for her to come back.”
Born Jacqueline Hayward, she grew up an only child in East Orange, N.J., just outside of Newark, where she learned to play the classical piano and babysat the boy across the street.
She went south for college at North Carolina Central University, then transferred to the District’s Howard University and attended for two years. In 1985, Howard gave her an honorary doctorate.
Hayward donated a $1 million life insurance policy to Howard and pledged her body to the medical school for research, according to news reports. Her lawyer said she bequeathed $250,000 to Arena Stage earlier this year and has donated more than $100,000 to local nonprofit organizations.
By all accounts, she never planned to go on television. But then a summer fellowship at Columbia University came along, a program meant to bring more minorities into the news business. Hayward took it.
After a short stint at a CBS affiliate in Atlanta, she came to Washington’s WUSA in the early 1970s, carving a niche for herself as an engaging personality focused on positive stories about regular people making a difference in the world.
Her friends say she was conscious of her status as a role model — especially for the city’s African American children. She served on the boards of countless nonprofit groups over the years, many of them focused on improving the lives of the city’s poorest kids. And she took an interest in individual students, like Lynda Jones-Burns, providing them with guidance and even financial assistance.
“When I came here, I didn’t want to be just a face on television. I wanted to put down roots here,” she said in 2012, when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) showed up in studio to celebrate her 40th year on the air. “I just wanted to be a part of the city from the very beginning.”
Her fans responded, showering her with bouquets of flowers that crowded her desk at WUSA’s headquarters on Wisconsin Avenue in Upper Northwest.
“There probably isn’t a male in that building who didn’t take advantage of that when they were short flowers for Valentines Day or an anniversary,” said Dave Statter, a former reporter at WUSA.
Doreen Gentzler, a longtime anchor at competitor WRC-TV (NBC4), said she has admired and respected Hayward’s work for decades.
“She was one of the first women on the anchor desk. . . . I enjoy her enthusiasm and sense of humor on the air,” Gentzler wrote in an e-mail. “There’s no question about her commitment to our community. . . . She is always out there helping to raise money and drawing attention to worthy causes.”
Hayward launched a blog in 2011, where she posted updates from her on-air and community work, as well as postcards from her personal life with two Yorkies, Sasha and Solomon. The blog, which also includes photographs from an Options board meeting Hayward hosted at her home two years ago, has not been updated since Oct. 1.
Officials at several organizations for which Hayward served as a board member, including the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, said she was a valuable volunteer who was more of a figurehead — using her celebrity to draw money and attention to good causes — than a decision-maker or money manager.
Paul Alagero, the Boys and Girls Club’s chief development officer, said Hayward was an honorary board member who raised money for the group’s arts programs, calling her a “huge advocate for youth who were interested in learning about the arts.”
Options was different. As chairwoman of the school’s board, she was responsible for overseeing more than $10 million in public funds meant to educate 400 students, many of whom had disabilities.
Minutes from Options board meetings, which are contained in court records, show that Hayward was engaged in discussions about issues ranging from truancy and academic performance to financial and organizational management.
Prosecutors have accused Hayward of being an accomplice to a self-dealing contracting scheme that funneled at least $3 million of school funding to private companies controlled by Options leaders.
Hayward, who at the time was chairwoman of the Options board, allegedly played a role in incorporating one of the companies and served as a paid member of the company’s board, according to court records. She also signed lucrative contracts between Options and that company, court records show.
Hayward’s lawyer has argued that she knew nothing of the alleged scheme and that she was carrying out her board duties in good faith. If a scheme existed, he wrote in a court document, “Dr. Hayward was herself a potential victim.”
Long before the Options controversy, Hayward was well-known for spending generous amounts of time, money and energy helping the District’s underprivileged kids. One of them was Lynda Jones-Burns.
Jones-Burns grew up with two sisters in a one-bedroom apartment in Northwest Washington, raised by a single mother who worked as a hotel housekeeper for more than three decades. Jones-Burns had two life goals as a girl: She wanted to work at a job that allowed her to sit down, and she wanted to live in a house with stairs.
She was a 17-year-old senior at the District’s Cardozo High School when she won a $1,000 college scholarship that Hayward had promised to the member of the marching band with the highest grade-point average. Jones-Burns played clarinet.
To celebrate, Hayward threw a party at her sprawling house in Silver Spring. The food was catered, and the house had more than one set of stairs. “It was over-the-top amazing,” Jones-Burns says now, three decades later. “I hadn’t seen anything like that before.”
Jones-Burns turned 18 three days later and Hayward took her out to dinner at Benihana, the Japanese restaurant. Hayward, divorced and without children, promised to be her godmother and set about giving Jones-Burns experiences and opportunities that made her feel like Cinderella.
“I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me,” Jones-Burns said.
J.C. Hayward appeared to her as a miracle, an elegant woman who swooped into her life and changed its trajectory.
The summer after she graduated from high school, Hayward took Jones-Burns to New York City, explaining that “as a young lady, there are certain things you should be exposed to,” Jones-Burns recalled. They stayed at the Plaza hotel, ate a meal at Tavern on the Green and had their makeup done at Macy’s.
Before Jones-Burns headed off to college in North Carolina, Hayward took her shopping for clothes, and not at any old department store. They went to Harriet Kassman’s high-end boutique on Wisconsin Avenue — which catered to government officials, business executives, and embassy and political wives — and Jones-Burns was allowed to pick out anything she wanted.
“This was 1982, and I walked out of there with $5,000 worth of clothes,” Jones-Burns said. “J.C. was like, ‘You’re going to college, you dress like a college student.’ ”
Jones-Burns said she only once asked Hayward to explain her generosity. “Why me?” Jones-Burns recalled asking. “She said: ‘Why not you?’ ”
When Jones-Burns had trouble adjusting to college, it was Hayward who flew to North Carolina to spend a week with her. It was Hayward who helped her pay tuition and who footed the bills for medical and dental appointments. It was Hayward who threw her and her sorority sisters a lavish party at the local Hilton when they pledged Delta Sigma Theta, Hayward’s sorority.
Jones-Burns’s dorm wall was adorned with a giant poster of her favorite pop star, Michael Jackson, and a smaller photograph of Hayward.
The two women spoke every day then, and they still speak four to five times a week.
“There has never been a day that she has not told me that she loved me, except for when we didn’t talk,” Jones-Burns said, likening Hayward to a second mother who showed her how to move beyond the confines of her inner-city childhood.
Jones-Burns is now a married mother of three children with her own small business preparing documents for the federal government and major corporations. She lives with her family in Howard County, in a home she and her husband helped design.
The first thing a visitor sees upon entering is a dramatic central staircase, leading to the second floor.
Photographs of Hayward hang on the wall alongside a portrait of President Obama and a 1968 newspaper announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
To Jones-Burns, the Options lawsuit and the allegations against Hayward are sensationalized. Hayward is “devastated,” that she can’t work and can’t participate in the charity events that normally keep her calendar packed, Jones-Burns said.
“That’s what’s killing her the most, not being about to be out there and help these organizations and touch individuals one person at a time,” Jones-Burns said. “She doesn’t throw money at you, she walks with you — and that is what she has done my entire life.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.