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Coworkers praise Jay Warren’s resilience, bravery battling cancer

Courtesy WCPO-TV

The WCPO-TV reporter, who has died at age 54, was a newsroom mentor and photojournalist after oral cancer treatments.

Viewers hadn’t seen much of WCPO-TV's Jay Warren in recent years as oral cancer treatments forced him to transition from on-air reporter and fill-in anchor to a behind-the-scenes photographer.

But the 20-year veteran was an admired colleague, mentor and valued newsroom resource until his recent death at age 54, say coworkers and former Channel 9 news staffers.

“He was one of the bravest people I've ever known,” says Tanya O’Rourke, Channel 9’s main co-anchor. “He fought that cancer for years. You would know he wasn't having a great day, but he wouldn't let it affect him. He was always just a good guy and a great colleague. He wanted to be part of WCPO and the process. He didn't want pity. He wanted to kick that cancer's butt.”

Illustrator Kevin Necessary, who worked near Warren in the Channel 9 newsroom from 2016 to 2019, says Warren personified resilience.

“Jay had had multiple surgeries on his face and jaw that limited his speaking, and he transitioned to being a photojournalist after he could no longer be on air,” Necessary says. “Jay and his family went through hell with his cancer. But he was just always bounding back. Happy to be at work. Happy to revel in his family. He was resilient.”

The Minnesota native and 1995 St. Cloud University graduate was hired in 2004 after reporting stints at Idaho Falls, Fort Wayne and Louisville. His first years here were spent covering Butler and Warren counties.

“When he moved out of the Butler-Warren bureau and was in the main newsroom, he had really taken on a ‘big brother’ role here -- reporters, photographers, producers, web team – mentoring and checking in on them. That was just the kind of guy he was – and it had a major impact,” says former anchor-reporter Evan Millward, who took a buy-out to leave the station last month.

“His bout with cancer changed everything. As he recovered, his focus changed from reporter to writer and photographer. Those skills and the institutional knowledge he had developed was important to the newsroom's coverage. He was dealt a tough hand, but made the best of it,” says former reporter Tom McKee, who retired from Channel 9 in 2018 after 40 years.

Lucy May and Brian Mains, former print reporters who worked at WCPO-TV in the 2010s, say Warren was a valuable and generous mentor.

“We worked together on many stories during my last year or so at WCPO,” says May, who left the TV station in 2021 to host WVXU-FM’s Cincinnati Edition. “He was a wonderful collaborator and helped coach me to be more comfortable and effective when doing stand-ups to present information on air. He was such a good person and treasured friend.”

Jeff Brogan, WCPO-TV vice president and general manager, called Warren “a mentor to our young journalists and a friend to many.”

“Jay went through a series of setbacks due to cancer several years ago, which limited his ability to report. So he stepped back from that position and transitioned to being a photographer – working closely with our reporters. His input and perspective as a former reporter were invaluable to those he worked with,” Brogan says.

“He was as dedicated as they come, and most recently told me he hoped to come back after being out on leave,” Brogan says.

Warren also was remembered for organizing Channel 9 ski outings. “He loved to ski and would arrange for the staff to head to Perfect North to take to the slopes,” O’Rourke says.

He also was an avid snowboarder, a Junior Olympic volleyball coach, a member of the United States Chess Federation and a passionate chess coach. “He loved teaching kids about chess,” Necessary says.

Former WCPO-TV entertainment editor Tasha Stewart remembered Warren this way on Facebook:

“Some people make an impact on your life not just for what they do but because of who they are,” Stewart wrote. “He would smile with pride as he shared stories about his beautiful daughter and her dancing. That same smile would be present as he coordinated newsroom outings – he really encouraged a sense of community in us. He offered his support and empathy on many tough days, even as he endured many tough days of his own. He was just a special, special person.”

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.