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Rena Golden, 51, a news leader and an open ear

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
March 22, 2013 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Rena Golden spearheaded CNN coverage of major world news, from the 9/11 terror attacks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rena Golden spearheaded CNN coverage of major world news, from the 9/11 terror attacks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rena Golden was born in India in 1961
  • She went on to hold various top positions at CNN
  • "Mentor" is one of the most common words people use to describe her
  • Passion for news was the most important for a journalist, she said

(CNN) -- Many success stories open with humble beginnings. Rena Golden's began in a village near the India-Nepal border.

Born in northeastern India in 1961, her parents brought her to the United States as a child, where a life of accolades and a career with a global news network awaited.

Golden passed away Wednesday in her Atlanta home after battling lymphoma for two years.

She was 51.

In addition to her husband, Rob Golden, she leaves behind a daughter, Sabrina, and a son, Adam.

Golden was "a devoted wife and above all, a dedicated mom," her husband wrote.

Warm memories around the globe

From her days at CNN to her later career at the Weather Channel, she touched many lives.

During her positions of leadership at CNN, she managed a global news team for more than a decade.

She spearheaded coverage of major world news, from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She left a personal mark on many who worked for and with her. Messages of tribute and condolences, by colleagues bereft at her passing, poured on her Facebook page.

"Our extended CNN is really sad tonight," former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan wrote. "We lost a good one. One of the superstars viewers don't see behind the scenes."

Former CNN journalist Robert Johnson, now director of photography at The Weather Channel, said she will be missed. Golden spent the last year of her career there.

"She had so much enthusiasm," Johnson posted on Facebook.

Words like "mentor" and "open ear" come up a lot when people describe Golden.

"Rena Golden inspired and mentored so many people and, lucky for me, I am one of them," CNN producer Boriana Treadwell wrote.

Her understanding of people, her advice and her encouragement made her more than popular with those who knew her closely.

"I've been trying to reconcile myself to" the news of her death, said former CNN producer Roy Wadia from Mumbai, India. "She was one of my dearest friends."

Love and success

Golden started out in 1985 as a producer at CNN, where she found both career success and love. Back then, her name was Rena Shaheen Zeya.

Then along came love.

Rob Golden worked as a journalist in the newsroom. The two fell for each other, and in 1987, colleagues put together a mock newscast, in which he asked her to marry him.

She thought she was watching a real newscast on TV. Rob Golden's appearance on the screen took her by surprise.

Then came the first career boost, when she was promoted to supervisor in 1993.

Four years later, she became vice president of programming at CNN International.

In 2000, her career advanced to senior vice president of CNN International. She made the jump to senior vice president of CNN.com in 2007, and served as its leader for about two years.

Accessible despite more responsibility

In her executive roles, Golden added more than 80 hours of programming for viewers in at least 200 countries, according to her resume, and opened production in Hong Kong and London.

She hired many of the news anchors seen on CNN International. One of them was Isha Sesay.

"She took a chance on me and I owe everything I have today to her," Sesay wrote in Golden's memorial website. "I will forever be grateful for her bravery, guidance and the great kindness she always showed me."

Under the load of greater responsibility, Golden still had an open ear for employee's concerns, Wadia said.

She not only mentored him in his career from her advanced position, but helped him make a major life decision as well.

When his heart was tugging at him to return to India to care for a family member in need, he said he looked to her to help him hash it out.

He followed his heart to Mumbai.

News was her passion

Golden had a deep passion for the news, and it showed.

"It was in her blood," said CNN producer Talia Kayali. "She was CNN."

Golden has called passion the most important aspect of being a journalist.

"You can learn TV web integration, you can learn technology, but it's the passion for news, that's something you need," she told the South Asian Journalists Association in a 2007 interview. "You need to know what you are doing is important and is making a difference."

Her management style gave other journalists the room and respect to expand their talents and encouraged them to grow.

"She built people," Kayali said, "particularly women at a time when there were fewer female leaders."

Battle with lymphoma

After leaving CNN, Golden completed an MBA program at Georgia State University. Shortly after graduating, she was diagnosed with lymphoma.

"Rena approached the disease and treatment as just one more hurdle to clear—just another bump in the road— upset only by the fact that it would delay or scale back her work ambitions," husband Rob wrote in her memorial.

The treatment appeared to be successful, and she went back to work, this time for The Weather Channel.

The lymphoma reappeared, but Golden kept on living life to the fullest.

"You never felt she was sick. She was a fighter," said Kayali, who grew closer to Golden during the time of her illness. "She dealt with it head on, and she kept up with life."

She accepted her fate with grace, Rob Golden wrote.

Not fear.

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