Skip to main content

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.
  • 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 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.

People we lost in 2013: The lives they lived

Part of complete coverage on
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 0030 GMT (0830 HKT)
Click through our gallery to remember those we lost this year.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 0055 GMT (0855 HKT)
Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
January 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
January 2, 2014 -- Updated 0128 GMT (0928 HKT)
Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
January 1, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
December 23, 2013 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
December 22, 2013 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Al Goldstein, the foul-mouthed publisher of Screw magazine and pornography pioneer died in New York. He was 77.
December 31, 2013 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)
"Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 0223 GMT (1023 HKT)
Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine died, her longtime friend Noel Beutel said. She was 96.
December 16, 2013 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
December 16, 2013 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
Tom Laughlin, the actor who wrote and starred in the "Billy Jack" films of the 1970s, died at age 82.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
Actress Eleanor Parker, nominated for three Oscars and known for her "Sound of Music" role, died Monday at 91, her family said.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 0218 GMT (1018 HKT)
Bill Beckwith, who co-hosted HGTV home-improvement show "Curb Appeal," has died. He was 38.
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
November 30, 2013 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Paul F. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died at age 79.
November 29, 2013 -- Updated 2342 GMT (0742 HKT)
Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Singer Wayne Mills, whose "outlaw country" songs center on honky-tonk life, died in a Nashville bar shooting.