Many of us have lost family and friends over the past year. Last week, OPB too lost a beloved colleague and friend, Beth Hyams.
A familiar voice on our air for 28 years, Hyams helped define the sound and personality of OPB. Many in Oregon and Southwest Washington knew her from her voice in our newscasts or as the local host of All Things Considered.
One of her strengths as a radio host was a character trait people don’t often associate with journalists or public speakers.
“She was shy,” said LC Hansen, Hyams’ longtime partner. “Beth believed she was at her best when she was one on one with another human being. It extended to her feelings about delivery on the air. She felt like she was talking to one person. It was her ethic, it was her belief, it was her comfort.”
Hyams grew up in Hawaii. She got her start in community radio, first at KPFA in Berkeley, and then at KBOO in Portland.
In recent years she had stepped back from her on-air role at OPB. But only so she could focus on editing and mentoring a new generation of hosts and reporters.
“Beth cared so much about the audience and about OPB’s accuracy,” said Kate Davidson, a reporter at OPB who took over as All Things Considered host from Hyams in 2015. “She was also just unflappable. Always kind, always calm. And she was always listening to OPB, hearing what it sounded like to listeners at home.”
Hyams had many ways of showing how much she cared about our audience. One example: she was a stickler for pronunciation. Her steady, strong voice lives on in the audio guide we use to help new hosts and reporters learn how to properly say place names — how to successfully pronounce the “Couch” in “Couch Street,” for example, and how not to mangle “Deschutes River” — in the Pacific Northwest.
Hyams’ ethical standards were ironclad. She cared about the truth. She valued clear, simple language. She cut spin, jargon and hyperbole from our scripts.
“Beth’s editing of those scripts was always exacting. Her evenhandedness showed up there all the time,” said OPB editor Rob Manning. “She’d insist on changing words with any kind of editorial lean, like the word ‘reform’ — she’d always take that out. I think she instilled in other reporters and editors a deep respect for what seem like little things.”
Hyams was an intensely private person. But we can share that she was the biggest Blazers fan on staff. She loved to dance, African dance especially. She tended a backyard garden. She was a voracious reader.
Hyams continued to work for years through a diagnosis and recurrence of cancer. She was working the day before she died.
She was a living example of the spirit of public service we aspire to at OPB.
We grieve for Beth. Our hearts are with Beth’s family — and with each of you who have lost someone during this exceptionally hard time.
Listen to Beth Hyams reading her favorite poem, Philip Levine’s “A Late Answer”:
Contributions in Beth Hyams’ memory can be made to the North Shore Community Land Trust, or by giving food or time to your local Food Not Bombs.
A memorial service for Beth will be held via Zoom at 4 p.m. on March 29.For details, please visit bethhyams.com.