It was a good thing that her preschool daughter spent the night before with Clinton Deveaux, the municipal court judge who is now her ex-husband after a disappointing six-year marriage, because for Monica Kaufman, the most visible media personality in Atlanta after 10 years as co-anchor at WSB television, this is not a day for dallying.
Photograph by David Carter
She begins it by walking through the early morning rain from her roomy old mansion of a house in Ansley Park to catch the bus for a downtown session with a lawyer about making out a new will (“I figure at 38 it's about time”), then a stop at a Ford dealership to pick up her faltering, new, pale green Thunderbird, and next a long drive out to the province of Dunwoody to continue interviewing financial advisers who would dearly love to show her how to invest her $175,000 salary. Finally, the personal stuff out of the way but no lunch in sight, by 1:30 on a warm but drizzly Thursday afternoon she finds herself stepping over winos on the steps of the fierce, granite St. Luke's Episcopal Church at Fifth and Peachtree and entering a disheveled annex to do her weekly volunteer bit for the Junior League: tutoring two teen-age inner-city girls in math.
She is wearing what she'll wear this evening on the 6 and 11 o'clock news shows - two-piece tweed suit, frilly mint blouse, demure pearl necklace, hair in a short, springy, boyish cut - but to the girls she might as well be wearing jeans. Kokethea (black, chubby, 17) and Christy (blonde, smacking gum, 14), both in jeans and loose tops, brighten and say hello to Monica when she enters the room, but they seem to have no time for celebrity worship.
For the next hour, her jacket off in the musty old room, Kaufman moves back and forth between the two girls. “Decrease means to subtract, take away,” she says to Kokethea, who is new at the personal computers. “That's the minus sign. OK? D for 'down,' decrease .... How'd you do, little one?" she says to Christy, who is taking a test, using the printer. "It may take us 50 years to do it, but if you've got the time so do I. ... You getting tired, honey?"
“Sleepy,” Kokethea says.
“Rain does that to you,” Kaufman tells her.
“It does, it really does. Everybody's sleepy on rainy days.”
It has been 10 years now since she slipped into town, an effervescent young black woman with a marriage, four years of newspapering and two years of television experience behind her in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and in that decade she has built a following that is perhaps unparalleled in Atlanta's broadcasting history. Until two years ago, when most ratings showed W AGA-TV (Channel 5) wresting the lead from WSB-TV(Channel 2) during the 6 and 11 o'clock news slots, Kaufman was Atlanta television personified. As the credits rolled and the music died at dusk each weekday, it was as though she had just stopped by for a chat: "Hi, I'm Monica Kaufman, and here's what's happening." Monica is people. Says Tom Houck, the curmudgeon talk-show host at WGST radio: "I venture to say that there's a lot of crackers whose only thoughts about blacks had to do with slavery who say Monica's great without even giving it a thought. ... She's the queen. No doubt about it."
The talk of “civic involvement” “Miss Community Service” - comes up repeatedly in conversations about her, and with good reason. She averages 140 speaking engagements a year now (it was nearly double that before her daughter Claire came along), all over the state, accepting no fee except the $20 and mileage paid by WSB. She is an active Junior Leaguer and a member of everything from the NAACP to Goodwill Industries. The list goes on: United Way, National Association of Black Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi (the fraternity of journalists, where often she can be found stuffing envelopes and licking stamps). She has received four Emmy awards (one, "The Making of Nightline," leading to her unbounded admiration for ABC's Ted Koppel). One must understand that she manages to juggle all of this around a schedule that requires her to check into the station around 3 o'clock on most weekday afternoons and stay there until midnight. Still, she is a pushover for what she calls "the other stuff."