The Ozarks Public Broadcasting family is grieving the loss of one person who helped shape us.
Missy Shelton Belote, longtime political reporter and former news director at KSMU, died this week in her home state of Tennessee after a battle with ovarian cancer.
KSMU's Jennifer Moore has this audio remembrance from some members of our team.
Anyone who knew Missy Shelton, which was the name she went by on the air, knows it's impossible to sum up her magnanimous spirit in mere words. But we can begin with one of the main roles we knew her best for: as a trusted and admired journalist throughout the Show-Me State.
Missy graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where she excelled in the state politics reporting track. After a stint in California, she came back to Missouri to work for KSMU as the capitol bureau reporter, sharing her stories with Missouri's NPR stations.
Randy Stewart, arts director and longtime announcer at KSMU, remembers those early days.
“It was really exciting to realize that we had the premier political reporter in the state of Missouri on our staff. And I think there was always a certain fear, unspoken fear, that NPR was going to scoop her up any time now and take her away,” Stewart said.
Working several days each week in the Missouri capitol building, Missy eventually earned the moniker "the Queen of Missouri Political Reporting." She started filing regular stories and spots for the network NPR, putting Springfield and the Ozarks region on the international map.
She racked up countless Missouri Broadcasters Association awards and more Edward R. Murrow awards than anyone in KSMU's history. One was a national Murrow on mothers in prison.
A terrific humor to offset the stresses of daily journalism
Randy Stewart says she also brought humor to the job daily.
“One of the funniest things was when we were setting up this very studio for the call-in show. We had great a great deal of fun, she and Arlen and I, fiddling around with the digital delay unit, trying to see if we could bleep things quickly enough. So that was fun,” Stewart said.
KSMU’s Morning Edition host Michele Skalicky agrees that Missy Shelton's humor was on point. Michele loves bugs and spiders. Missy loved avoiding them.
“She was in the cubicle next to me for quite a while when she first came here. And yeah, this place is known for being buggy. So whenever I see a bug, I'd make sure to show Missy. And I'd always get a little shriek out of her,” Skalicky said.
Missy also was a blast during on-air pledge drives, rewriting sketches from Saturday Night Live to amuse listeners or promising to sing a ballad if we reached our fundraising goal.
“She made you feel like you were the only person there in a room of people. You know, she just had that way about her and that way with people. She was just so warm and genuine and caring and kind,” Skalicky said.
She performed numerous leading roles in Springfield Little Theater and she was active in the Wesley United Methodist Church.
‘She had a gift,’ allowing sources to trust her
One of the things that set her apart as a journalist was the immense trust she earned from her sources. Mike Smith was news director when Missy Shelton came on board.
“She had a gift of dealing with people. She could make you feel like a friend and that you've been a friend for a long, long time. It allowed for her subjects to open up about things, to tell her perhaps more than they would have otherwise to any other reporter for any other reason,” Smith said.
A brush with death in 2000
She had a close call with death in the year 2000 when she narrowly avoided boarding the plane that former Governor Mel Carnahan eventually died in.
“Missy was on the campaign trail with Governor Mel Carnahan, his son, Randy Carnahan, and campaign aide Chris Sifford. She had been following the campaign for some time and was, in fact, the night of that plane crash scheduled to be on that small plane,” Smith said.
After a last-minute decision, the governor’s team went ahead without her. That would turn out to be Carnahan’s fatal flight.
A calling to motherhood
Missy Shelton worked as news director at KSMU for most of her time here. But there was one job that she considered even more wondrous than journalism: motherhood. So in 2012, after 13 years with KSMU and NPR, Missy Shelton signed off for the last time and moved back to her home region of eastern Tennessee to raise three children with her husband.
“She adopted these children from Ethiopia, Vietnam and China. And they were really the main reason why she left KSMU to devote her life and her love fully to them and her husband, Brad. And that is, to me—all of those things are to me what made her such a special person. All that and much, much more,” Smith said.
She wrote and published a romance novel that helped reduce the stigma around infertility.
A battle with cancer
In 2017, Missy Shelton Belote was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Despite that, she realized another dream based on her deep faith as a Christian. She enrolled in seminary, became a Methodist minister and began preaching.
Last weekend, her husband, Brad Belote, also a former Springfield area journalist, shared an update: Missy was on hospice care. The voice that so effortlessly and enthusiastically rang out over the KSMU airwaves for more than a decade could no longer even manage a phone call.
Many of our team members dashed off cards or private notes for her husband to read to our former colleague.
Most of my message to Missy will remain private. But I thanked her for giving me a chance by hiring me when I needed a job. I told her I know the reason she always let me and others shine in the spotlight was because she already shone from within. I told her what a big shot I'd felt like just walking beside her in the Capitol building in Jefferson City, where everyone knew who she was. And I thanked her for letting me, as a young journalist, do high profile interviews when we both knew she was, hands down, smoother and more experienced.
Around Missy, scores of journalism students she taught at Missouri State University came to believe in the importance of our profession. Parents found the adoptive process to be less daunting. Congregants felt closer to God. And we all felt more special than before we had met her.
Missy Shelton Belote died in the early hours of Thursday morning at her home in Kingsport, Tennessee. She was 44.