"Life is a journey, not a destination.” Like all trusty chestnuts, this statement belies its depth and meaning with a simple, matter-of-fact tone. Of course life is a journey: We are all going somewhere and doing something, right? But where? And what?
For one Kentucky girl, the “what” was broadcasting, and the “where” was a path that began in Lexington, veered southeast to North Carolina, then to Washington, D.C., New York, and eventually back to D.C., where she currently resides. And now her journey has circled back to the Bluegrass, where preparations are being made at her childhood home for a joyous celebration and a new chapter in her life.
Pamela Ashley Brown was born on Nov. 29, 1983, to then-Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and his wife, Phyllis George. Brown, an attorney and businessman, purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from Harland Sanders in 1964 and is credited with elevating the company to its global status. He was Kentucky’s 55th governor, serving from 1979-83. George, a former Miss Texas and Miss America, joined the cast of CBS’s The NFL Today in 1975, becoming one of the first women to work in the sports broadcasting field. She and Brown were married in 1979 and bought their Cave Hill estate soon after. Deteriorating conditions in the governor’s mansion in Frankfort forced the first couple to live at Cave Hill full-time, and it became the de facto state residence and home to their children, Pamela and her older brother, Lincoln.
“I feel so fortunate to have grown up in Lexington, Kentucky,” said Pamela. “One of my favorite memories growing up at Cave Hill was having my cousins and grandparents visit during the summers and hosting pool parties for all my friends—even the one where I chipped my two front teeth because I slipped on the pavement by the pool.”
Currently CNN’s justice and Supreme Court correspondent, Pamela recalls the early connection to journalism and the gift of a strong work ethic passed down by her parents. “My parents traveled a lot for work, and I remember helping my mom pick out her work outfits and spraying her perfume on my pillows when she would leave on trips because I’d miss her so much. I feel guilty when I have to leave my dog behind on work trips, so I now understand how torn she was when she had to travel.
“But both of my parents showed me the value of working hard and making sacrifices. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more appreciative of the example they both set, and I think it’s a big reason why I’m on my current career path.”
Pamela attended some of Lexington’s best schools, participating in athletics and one of Kentucky’s signature activities. “I absolutely loved going to Henry Clay [High School],” she said. “It’s where I made most of my lasting friendships. Before that I attended TLS [The Lexington School], Sayre and Lexington Catholic. I was involved in soccer growing up and rode American Saddlebred horses competitively until halfway through high school.”
Pamela’s affection for the educators who impacted her life remains strong, and she shares a particularly tender memory. “The teacher that I remember most fondly is Pat Esrael from Lexington Catholic,” she said. “She would give her undivided attention to me and always made me feel special. Sadly, she passed away last spring. She was truly such a special human being.”
The seeds of journalism were planted early for Pamela, who headed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after graduating from Henry Clay. “I grew up watching my mom hosting her own shows and being a broadcaster in various capacities, so it was something I was interested in from a young age,” she said. “When I entered high school, I began interning at WLEX [TV] in Lexington and then CNN over the summer. I knew I wanted to pursue a broadcast journalism degree in college, and UNC had one of the most reputable programs in the country.
“UNC helped prepare me in many ways. It taught me all the basics of the process: how to write for television, shoot my own stories and edit my own pieces. Most importantly, it taught me good journalism ethics and how to avoid pitfalls along the way.”
While in college, Pamela enjoyed a brief gig with Jefferson Pilot Sports—where she would “run up and down the sidelines picking up the cable from the photographer”—and after graduation, she landed a job as a reporter for NewsChannel 8 and WJLA in Washington, D.C.
Several years of professional experience at the local level led to a position on the national news stage and another move. “I came to CNN after working at WJLA as a reporter/anchor for seven years,” Pamela said. “It was a big step up, but it felt like the right time for a new challenge. I had always respected CNN as a news organization, and I was particularly interested in coming in at the ground level with the new CNN president, Jeff Zucker, at the helm.”
Some of the nation’s most difficult moments gave Pamela an opportunity to spread her wings as a journalist, working with state and federal officials to keep the public up to date on the day’s top stories. “CNN moved me up to NYC and then back to D.C. after less than a year to become the justice correspondent,” she said. “That move was prompted by my reporting during the Boston bombings, Cleveland kidnappings and other law enforcement-related stories.”
Changing cities and roles has been a bit of a whirlwind, but Pamela wouldn’t have it any other way. “It has been a wild ride on the Supreme Court and justice beat these last three years, and I have a feeling it will continue to be,” she said. “I most enjoy being a part of the big and impactful stories that CNN covers all around the globe.”
Contemplating what might come next in her career, she considers expanding her repertoire. “In the future, I would like to host my own show, keep up the reporting, and work on documentaries.”
This past fall, Pamela began the newest phase of her life when boyfriend Adam Wright popped the question. “My fiancé proposed last September on a random rainy Wednesday night,” she said. “I came home after a long day, and he had made dinner, which was the first clue something was up. After dinner, he gave me a note and left the room. A few minutes later, he walked back in with our dog, Bubs, who had a ring box on his bow-tie collar. It was the perfect proposal, because I’m such a homebody.”
Though her parents divorced in 1998 and Cave Hill was sold a few years later, there was little doubt in Pamela’s mind where her June wedding would be held. “I’ve dreamed of getting married at Cave Hill since I was a little girl, so one of my first calls was to the owners, who are also family friends,” she said. “They were kind enough to allow me to host my wedding there, and the plans are moving full steam ahead.”
Although Wright has visited the Bluegrass State before, many of the guests will be first-time Kentucky visitors, and Pamela is thrilled to be a part of that experience. “My fiancé, Adam, has been with me several times, but his parents and sister have never been, so it should be fun for them,” she said. “I’m so excited to bring all of these out-of-towners to Kentucky and show them what a wonderful place it is.”
CNN makeup artist Yasmeen Ibrahim will be handling the bride’s hair and makeup, but most of the professional services enlisted are from the Lexington area. “I’m relying on a lot of Kentucky vendors for my wedding,” said Pamela. “Sarah Leer is my wedding coordinator; L.V. Harkness for invitations and event design; Elizabeth Hemphill with Rose and Thistle is my event designer and florist. Cooper Vaughan is my caterer, and Sugar Forest will provide the cake.”
Big Ass Fans will keep the air flowing, while bluegrass sounds from The Wooks enliven the rehearsal dinner, and local artist Danny Williams will provide the music for the ceremony.
Will Pamela’s special connection to the Commonwealth ever bring her home permanently? “Kentucky is where my roots are. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and I try to come home several times a year. I have no idea what my future holds and where my career will take me, but I would love to reside in Kentucky again one day. You never know!”