SAN ANTONIO – Anchor Ursula Pari celebrates her birthday on Thursday, and to celebrate, we’re taking you behind the scenes to get to know the Lousiana native.
Pari has been back on the noon and 5 o’clock newscasts for a few months after a months-long hiatus due to serious injuries she suffered during a polo accident.
In honor of Pari’s birthday, we thought it would be appropriate to dive in on all things Ursula — how she got started in broadcast, what her favorite moments as a journalist have been, her favorite things about San Antonio and so many other things.
Where it began
Pari has been with KSAT for a long time, but she didn’t start her career here. Her first journalism job was in her hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana, and she started it just a few days after graduating from Louisiana State University.
“I was completely thrown into the water and expected to swim,” Pari said. “I not only had to come up with stories by daily traveling three parishes in my beat, but I also had to edit them by myself in time for the 5 p.m. news. Back then, in 1984, we only had typewriters with carbon paper called “set sheets” so that we could have six copies to distribute to all those on the show, including the teleprompter operator who had to tape them all together and physically roll them out for the anchors to read. If you had a typo, you had to either Liquid Paper all the copies and try again or start from scratch. Amazingly, our station in little Lafayette would become one of the first in the nation to go computerized with Newstar systems -- basically, simple word processors. It was a huge deal and we thought it couldn’t get any better than that.”
Landing in journalism
Pari said becoming a journalist was totally an accident.
"College professors kept pushing me into more communications and news-related classes, and while I really wanted to be an artist, I found a lot of creative energy in putting together news stories. It tapped into something that I can only describe as wanting to be the first to know what’s happening and wanting to know all there is to know about it."
Memorable reporting in the early days
As her career progressed, Pari moved on to Portland, Maine, at one point. There, she talked her news director into letting her travel to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other research locations in New England to put together a series of stories about what was next in technology.
“This was back in the early 1990s, and the stories were mind-blowing to me,” Pari said. “Trying to explain how virtual reality was being incubated into something that would one day be used in television shows was difficult — like trying to explain to flat Earthers why the world is actually round. I incorporated every editing trick I knew, and some I didn’t, to show how massive computer databases and a version of artificial intelligence were keeping the power grids going in the Northeast and how this too might be coming to your everyday gadgets.”
Pari said that, looking back, she realized that by dipping into an area so beyond the mindset at that time, she was running the risk of getting deep in the weeds of local news storytelling.
“Now, as I leave for work in my semi-auto driving car with a heads-up windshield display, while my Bluetooth earpiece plays music from my cellphone/day planner/computer/filing system that neatly fits in my pocket, and I prepare to deliver a studio news segment with a VR instructional element, I realize that my little WCSH-TV news series deserved the accolades,” she said.
First day at KSAT
Thankfully, Pari finally made her way to KSAT, and her first day happened about as fast as any news day does.
“I almost didn’t have time to get nervous,” she said. “I showed up at 1 p.m. and was told I would immediately be needed to fill in for a pregnant co-worker who was being induced to have her baby. Voila! I began my career at KSAT anchoring in the 5 p.m. News and Nightbeat. It was an adrenaline-filled day, and when the overnight ratings came in with a win for both shows I began to breathe again.”
Moving stories from co-workers
There have been countless stories Pari has presented from the studio on KSAT — really important work on days when, she said, viewers needed the anchors to hold their hands.
She specifically remembers her co-anchor Steve Spriester reporting and anchoring during the bonfire collapse, which happened at a time that is typically reserved for celebration.
Another memorable event was the Sutherland Springs mass shooting.
“We all needed to wrap our arms around South Texas and hold tight, and I hope the stories we brought to the viewers did just that,” she said.
And, of course, one of her favorites was offering viewers a full picture of the city’s most amazing history with the Tricentennial Vignettes, news stories and documents.
“I learned so much and appreciate San Antonio so much more,” she said.
Getting to know more about Ursula Pari
We threw a slew of questions at Pari to find out more about her and her favorite things. She filled us in on quite a bit.
If you hadn't become a journalist, what would you be doing right now?
Without journalism, I can’t imagine where I would be. If I squint hard, however, I might picture myself as a horse trainer or working for a veternarian. My grades in science were never good enough to make it through vet school! I wanted to be a graphic artist and was actually majoring in that at LSU before getting lured into broadcast journalism.
One of your main hobbies is riding horses. How did you get into that?
I used to cut out the pictures from the racetrack results in the newspaper and staple them onto the wall (as a child). We were city people and not financially in a place to buy a horse, so my dad kept promising that, if I came up with half the money for one, then he would come up with the rest. He learned a big lesson and so did I. His lesson was to never challenge me to anything. Mine was to never let obstacles get in the way of something you really want. I saved babysitting money religiously until I was 14, then found an inexpensive horse for sale and worked the deal. Once I got the horse to the stables, I didn’t even have a saddle so I just rode bareback for many months. That is why I am a very naturally balanced rider and was easily able to learn how to compete in rodeo events, as well as the difficult sport of polo.
If you could live anywhere in the world, besides San Antonio, where would you live and why?
I would certainly return to Cajun Country and chill by a bayou if it weren’t for the snakes and alligators. Really though, I’d like to retire anywhere on the water, which I find tranquil and healing.
What's the best piece of advice you ever got? Who gave it to you?
My former KSAT colleague Angela Vierville once told me something that has proven to be great advice: When stress, worries and workplace politics are threatening your resolve at the office, put your head down and do your job. In other words, stay below the radar and just work. That will get you through a rough patch.
Is there someone who inspired you, either in your career or personally, early in your life or later in life? Who do you look up to the most and why?
There is one lady who has been an inspiration to literally hundreds of journalists over the decades named Maria Placer. She was my first news director at KLFY-TV and, really, the mentor I needed to be motivated to continue on in a business that is super tough. She was a strong woman in a place that few females were ever allowed to lead in the 1980s, and she set the bar high.
I love her dearly, as do many successful television journalists who had the luck to work for her. The only downside is that, although she pushed the ceiling till it broke, for most of my career, I have rarely seen it open again, for women to sit shoulder to shoulder with men in broadcasting. That is certainly finally changing, as witnessed at KSAT, who now has its first female news director, sales manager and corporate nice president of news. Look how far we have come!
Favorite things to do in San Antonio
I adore going downtown and, in particular, the River Walk. It’s simply the loveliest place to stroll during the day.
Top 3 favorite things about San Antonio
- The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is truly a unique experience.
- The San Antonio Polo Club is a historic part of the city’s history -- the city’s first professional sport as well as its traditional "Sunday in the park" pastime for more than 100 years.
- I like tooling around in Monte Vista and Olmos Park neighborhoods just to look at the stunning, historic homes.
Favorite food and where to get it
While it’s expensive to do it all the time, I am a fan of periodically dipping into fine cuisine. I love genuine French cooking, in particular -- it’s the Cajun in me -- so restaurants like Bistro 09 are my favorite in town but, frankly, New Orleans is the best culinary place on the planet. I can’t stop thinking about my last trip there and all the food I ate. Heaven!
All-time favorite movie
I love romantic comedies and chick flicks. Sorry. "Terms of Endearment," "Romancing the Stone," "Pretty Woman." Yeah, that’s me.
Top 3 bucket list items
I love to go to new places and really immerse myself in the culture, even if it’s for a week, and even if it’s a little off the beaten track. I was able to do that on a once-in-a-lifetime polo club trip to Pakistan, which is one of the most interesting places on the map. I have never been beyond that in the Orient, so Vietnam, Thailand and such are on my bucket list now. I also want to one day hold a grandbaby in my arms. That’s at the top of my list, but I’m willing to wait another 10 years or so!
I come from a family of voracious readers, so growing up I got all the hand-me-downs. That meant my older brothers’ taste in literature became mine. Anything John Irving or Stephen King are my favorites. My mom’s used books also became mine -- stuff like "The Other Side of Midnight." Needless to say, some of these hand-me-downs were so inappropriate for a young woman. When I got pregnant with my son, my nightly hour or two of reading before bed turned into 10 minutes, then zero. I am revisiting my old reading habit in my rehabilitation from my accident. I am just finishing a Johnny Cash biography that has been sitting in wait for me for years. He was a complicated man with a drive like no one else.
You’re from Louisiana, and you love to cook. Who inspires you in the kitchen? What’s your favorite meal to make? Do you follow recipes or just create?
I am in the kitchen all day long when I’m not riding horses or at work. I love taking leftovers and making something brand-new with them. Sometimes it’s just adding a little Louisiana spice to make it nice, but San Antonio has such great peppers, I find myself experimenting a lot with them. My family is my test kitchen and each member has their favorites. My daughter loves Cajun-fried pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans sauteed with spicy bacon. My husband is a marinated steak, truffle scalloped potatoes and wedge salad guy. My son is just always hungry. He’ll eat anything, but huge steaks are his favorite.
What’s a favorite recipe you would be willing to share with KSAT Insiders?
Yesterday, I took leftover mac and cheese, leftover Central Market orzo zucchini salad, the last remnants of pico de gallo in the fridge, added a diced hatch pepper, some hatch bacon -- buy it in August at HEB and freeze it to use all year -- some chicken broth and a little milk. It was the best soup I’ve had in a long, long time. I use the taste test method to cooking -- just keep tasting and add what’s missing.
Getting back to riding horses
Pari said she will begin riding horses again -- carefully and gently -- as soon as she is cleared.
“It took 45 years to fall off and seriously hurt myself, so I figure I have another 45 years more before I get in trouble again,” she said. “That said, to be on the safe side, I’m going to be a lot less aggressive.”