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Karen GUCKIAN Obituary

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GUCKIAN, Karen KAREN "KELLY" GUCKIAN Karen "Kelly" Guckian, 54, of Cumming, a computer-assisted reporting specialist who worked on numerous investigations by newspapers in Georgia and Texas, died June 27. Kelly joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in early 2012 and provided the foundation for a strong run of investigative stories into problems with government, schools and the improper use of tax dollars. "From day one, she boosted the quality of our journalism," said AJC Editor Kevin Riley. In addition to her dedication to journalism, Kelly was a kind and thoughtful person with a great sense of humor. Friends and colleagues spoke of her sweetness, humility and grace, even as she battled pancreatic cancer over the past five months. Kelly was born in Fort Worth, Tx., but, being in an Air Force family, she grew up in many locations and attended about a dozen public schools in Mississippi, North Dakota, California, Oklahoma and Colorado. Her older brother, Steve Ward, recalled that his sister was a "single-minded, strong-willed" girl, much like her maternal grandmother. "She wanted to know every detail about what was going on," he said. That same trait of wanting to find the underlying cause of things, he believes, led her to become an investigative journalist. But back when they were kids, it presented an older brother with certain challenges. "You could not pacify her," Ward said. "You had to explain things to her satisfaction." He added, "She had a younger brother and an older brother who were bigger than her, but she held her own. Whenever the three of us were involved in something, she was in charge." Kelly and Steve sang in church and school choirs, and he eventually went on to a career in music, locating in metro Atlanta and playing in the band 3Way Street. Kelly shied away from the spotlight, and eventually received a business management degree from St. Mary's University in San Antonio. She married Roger Guckian in 1982, but he died when his car was struck by a drunken driver on Christmas Day only five years into their marriage. Kelly remained close over the years with Roger's son from another marriage, Jason Guckian. Kelly worked for the San Antonio Express-News for about 18 years, working her way up from archiving photos to news researcher. When home computers were still a rarity, she got a Commodore 64 and dove into learning about it, seeming to master it in days. Her father, Gilbert Ward, having retired from the military, worked for Hewlett-Packard, and often passed on computers and parts to his daughter. The skills she developed on her own initiative led to her becoming the newspaper's database editor while she earned her degree in information systems. Carolyn Edds, a longtime friend and fellow news researcher, described Kelly as her "geeky confidant" and "a constant encourager." Detail-oriented, with a great toolbox of investigative skills, Kelly would not let go of an assignment until she had gotten the answer. When she saw the need, Kelly was willing to break into the role of reporter and photographer, once reporting on a house fire in her San Antonio neighborhood. In a lighter moment, she snapped a photo of a pair of large green inflatable dolls that looked like aliens, riding in the back of a truck. "She was so excited when they published that picture," said Edds, who met Kelly at the San Antonio newspaper but who now is a news researcher with the Tampa Bay Times. But Kelly was first a data-cruncher who loved doing in-depth analysis of numbers and information. From the moment she arrived at the AJC, she contributed strongly to the newspaper's ever-growing emphasis on watching out for people's tax dollars and ferreting out corruption and malfeasance. She helped expose that bureaucratic delays often let bad cops continue to serve and draw salaries, as well as the dismal state of college preparedness among students in Georgia's rural schools. She also made a major contribution to the AJC's school cheating coverage by mapping results of the newspaper's analysis. "She is diligent, thorough and persistent," said AJC Assistant Managing Editor Victoria Hicks. "Once the data are in hand, she does much more than crunch the numbers; she understands what makes a story - which is what readers care about." How proud was Kelly of her work? Each time the AJC ran an ad showing a picture of the investigative team, Kelly kept a copy. She had a stack of them. Moving to metro Atlanta brought an added joy in that her parents had retired here. She lived with them for a couple of months in Ball Ground while she found a home. That home - in Cumming, close to Lake Lanier - was a dream come true for her, and a bit of a nightmare. It flooded several times. But still, she eventually settled in and enjoyed taking her beloved dog, a German Shepherd mix named Button, for walks by the lake. Kelly talked to her friends at the AJC about how much it meant to her to spend quality time with her parents. "It was like having her home again," said Kelly's mother, Joyce Ward. "When she'd come home at night, I'd have supper ready. We had wonderful mother-daughter talks." When Kelly was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early this year, having her parents and her brother close became even more important, both for their emotional support and their help as the disease quickly progressed. For a time, Joyce Ward moved in with Kelly to help her. Kelly continued to work at least part-time through the end of May. "We could be with her," said her mother. "I think it was the plan of the Lord, that we could be with her, so she wouldn't be alone." Kelly's parents have taken in Button. Survivors include her parents, Joyce and Gilbert Ward of Ball Ground; her stepson Jason and his wife Heather Guckian, of San Antonio; two brothers, Steve and his wife Amy Ward of Woodstock, and Kevin and his wife Carmen Ward of Spokane, Wa.; and three stepgrandchildren, Soleil, Zander and Declan Guckian of San Antonio. The family will receive friends Monday evening from 6 to 9 at South Canton Funeral Home, 3147 Marietta Highway, Canton. Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at the chapel of the funeral home, followed by a graveside service at Macedonia Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Karen Kelly Guckian data journalism education fund at Investigative Reporters and Editors/National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting, 141 Neff Annex, UMC, Columbia, MO 65211
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 30, 2013
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