Kim Block, news anchor for WGME, announced Tuesday she is stepping down to recover from a brain injury. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Portland TV news anchor Kim Block is leaving her job at WGME after 39 years to focus on recovering from a traumatic brain injury that’s prevented her from working for the past year.

Block made the announcement Tuesday on social media and with a detailed message on the WGME website, saying she needed more time to focus on her recovery, which has taken longer than expected. Just over a year ago, Block slipped and fell on her icy driveway in Falmouth. Her feet came out from under her and her head smacked hard on the ground.

She’s undergone intensive physical, speech and occupational therapy, among other treatments, and continues to see a physical therapist five times a week. She says she’s made significant progress, but still suffers pounding headaches, is extremely sensitive to light and noise, and gets easily over-stimulated.

“I’m able to do most things, but I’m limited in what I can do,” Block, 63, said in an interview Tuesday. “There are deadlines and high stress in this job, which has always suited the way I function. But not now.”

Block said she was grateful to have been able to work at the station for so long, cover so many historic events and interview so many interesting people. She’s covered all of Maine’s best-known politicians over the last four decades and did groundbreaking reporting on the outbreak of AIDS in Maine in the 1980s, breast cancer awareness and other health issues.

“It’s been a gift to be able to cover these stories,” Block said. “I hope people could see I was working with my heart, not just my head, to try to bring a sense of compassion to stories.”

WGME General Manager Susan Walther left the door open for Block to return to the station at some point, in some capacity, once she feels up to it.

“Kim has been a mainstay in our community for nearly four decades and we will forever be grateful to her hard work delivering stories that matter,” Walther said in a written statement Tuesday. “This is not, however, the end of our relationship with Kim. Our anchors and journalists remain committed to helping Kim on her road to recovery, and once she is ready to return to work our door is open to any and all possibilities for her.”

Kim Block sits in a CBS newsroom with colleagues, including newsman Dan Rather, left, in November 1981. File photo

At the time of her accident, Block was co-anchoring WGME’s 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m and 11 p.m. newscasts. Since then, Jennifer Long has been co-anchoring those newscasts. Station officials said Tuesday they are still exploring options for a permanent replacement for Block.

Block, who studied nursing before turning to journalism, said she’s always been passionate about health reporting and helping to raise awareness about various health issues. She said that even though she’s stepping away she hopes that by talking about her injury she can raise awareness about concussions and brain trauma. She said people have to be aware that a fall or any sort of trauma to the head can cause an injury. Block said she started experiencing severe symptoms the next day and has not worked at the station since.

“I could not walk a straight line, and I needed to hold on to walls to walk around my house. I could not drive, cook, read, watch television, hold lengthy conversations, fold socks or sort the mail,” Block wrote in her announcement. “And the never-ending pounding in my head was nearly unbearable.”

Block grew up in New York City and in the suburbs of Washington, D.C, where her father worked as a doctor and her mother as a nurse. Ironically, she said, she grew up in a house with no TV, as her parents preferred her to spend her time reading, so she had no early thoughts of being a TV news anchor. She attended the University of Indiana and at first majored in nursing, but she had always loved to write and decided to switch to journalism.

Kim Block in January, 1982 at WGAN, now known as WGME. Press Herald file photo

After graduation, she was offered a job, in 1978, as a radio reporter at WLOB in Portland. She later worked at WCSH radio and WGME radio. While at WGME, she got the chance to audition for an anchor spot, even though she had no TV experience. During the audition, she sat on a telephone book – the desk and chair couldn’t be easily adjusted to her height – and, at one point, she slid off the book and under the desk. She got up as if nothing had happened and continued the audition. Later, she was told her poise had impressed management.

Block said she fell in love with Maine and decided to stay. She met her husband, Bob Patton, here, and the couple have two grown children. Block hopes to continue her involvement with local causes and community groups, something for which she’s well known. She was a founding board member of the Cancer Community Center, was on the board of the Rape Crisis Center and has worked with the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

Block said she is especially proud of reporting she did on what it was like for gay people Maine during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late ’80s and ’90s. She also is proud of her years of reporting on breast cancer awareness.

Even though she feels she needs to focus on her health – and dozens of commenters on her Facebook page agreed she’s doing the right thing – Block said it was a difficult decision to formally step away from a job she loves.

“If you see me out and about, please say hello. I’ll be the one with the sunglasses and noise canceling headphones, but I won’t break and I definitely don’t bite,” Block wrote on WGME’s website. “This is still our community and I’m going to be very much a part of it.”

WGME posted a retrospective of Block’s career on its website Tuesday, including videos of Block on air over the years.

WGME devoted much of its Tuesday evening newscast to showing highlights of her career, which began on Jan. 5, 1981. Block, who appeared live on the anchor desk with other members of the station’s news team, hinted that she might be able to make a return to broadcasting after she has made a full recovery.

“It’s not necessarily goodbye. I can assure you that if I can, I will find my way to you,” Block told viewers.

WGME anchors Long and Gregg Lagerquist, and sports reporter Dave Eid said that Block served as a mentor to them and other news team workers.

WGME reporter Brad Rogers did a brief news segment in which he pointed out that Block was a leader in community service efforts, raising millions of dollars for charitable causes such as Camp Susan Curtis, the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, Mary’s Walk and the Girl Scouts.

“It’s such a privilege to be connected to such a caring and giving community,” Block said.

The news that Block will retire prompted members of Maine’s congressional delegation to express their wishes for a successful recovery, with Sen. Angus King tweeting, “For 39 years, Maine people have invited Kim into their homes to share the news for one simple reason: we trust her.”

Tuesday’s newscast ended when the WGME newsroom and production team gathered around the anchor desk and Block, who was dabbing her eyes with a tissue, to wish her farewell.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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