The journalism world and Black Entertainment Television lost a true professional and friend Sunday afternoon when BET.com news producer Tracy Stokes succumbed to complications from kidney failure. He was 37 years old.
According to his mother, Lillie Stokes, a retired teacher living in North Carolina, Tracy died at 4:07 p.m. Sunday at Wake Med Hospital in Raleigh. He had pneumonia in both lungs, she said.
Despite his long bout with kidney problems, which meant steady visits to doctors and other specialists, Tracy enjoyed working, and he never used his illness as an excuse for giving less than his best.
“I don’t think most people know just how giving Tracy was,” said Mrs. Stokes. “He really believed in helping people, and he wanted to see folks loving one another. He couldn’t deal with people disrespecting each other. He liked people to be straightforward.”
For those who never had the pleasure of working with Tracy, you were likely connected to him in ways you didn’t even know. If you visited BET.com over much of the past half-decade and clicked on such popular BET.com segments as the “Bring That Week Back” photo flipbook, the annual “Those We Lost” obituary compilation or the “World Lens” section, which highlights photos of people of color making news throughout the world, you were indeed connected to Tracy. He worked meticulously on these projects, among many others, and went about his duties as a news gatherer and producer with passion and pride.
It was only fitting that many of his activities and assignments at BET.com revolved around photography. Tracy was an avid and accomplished photojournalist, who established a successful photography business, Fotos By Tracy, which he ran with V. Scott Hamilton and Rodney Turner.
Tracy landed at BET.com just shortly after Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Gulf Coast. I was BET.com’s managing editor at the time and heard about Tracy from Retha Hill, then the vice president of content.
I hired Tracy, who had worked at ABC Channel 3 in Norfolk, Va.; NBC Channel 10 in Portsmouth, Va., and ABC in Washington, D.C., and he helped plan and execute the most comprehensive news coverage on the Internet of that tragic natural disaster as it related to African Americans. Not only did he serve as a deft photo editor, but he wrote timely, interesting articles; uploaded daily video clips; recorded and produced person-on-the-street interviews; and corresponded with students and reporters who converged in the Gulf Coast. Tracy was also a major part of BET.com’s election coverage over the years.
One of my special “Tracy Moments”: I arrived at BET.com one morning about 7 a.m. Tracy, who had already been there about an hour working on the day’s news, didn’t know I had entered the news room, and he was belting out the most beautiful version of the Negro spiritual “His Eye is On the Sparrow” I have ever heard.
“Wow!” I said. “Are you kidding me? You can sing like that?”
Responded Tracy: “You’d better not tell anybody!”
Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell everybody I ran into that day. I hope he forgave me.
“‘His Eye Is On the Sparrow’ was his favorite tune,” Mrs. Stokes told me today. “He would call me sometimes and sing it to me over the phone, and it would make me cry.”
Tracy was born in Clinton, N.C., but spent many of the past several years in Waldorf, Md. A graduate of Clinton High, he attended Hampton University, eventually transferring to Norfolk State University, where he graduated cum laude. He was a member of the Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
“Tracy was a good friend and trusted colleague,” said Tanu Henry, senior manager of BET.com News. “He brought energy and attitude, an appreciation for detail, thoroughness, organization and passion to everything he did in his life and at work. His contributions will be missed sorely, even as we fondly keep him in our memories.”
“Tracy Stokes has had a great impact on BET.com,” said Diana Clark-Baty, Senior Vice President of BET Digital. “I, like many of you, will personally miss the interactions with Tracy. I am enriched having known Tracy Stokes.”
In addition to his mother, Tracy is survived by his father, William Stokes Sr., a retired principal.
The funeral service will be held on Thursday, November 12 at 2 p.m. in Clinton, North Carolina at Union Grove Church of Christ, 716 Lisbon Street.
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Lillie B. Stokes (Tracy's mother)
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 24
Clinton, NC 28329-0024