Maria L. Gutiérrez, Univision’s former senior vice president and regional director of local media for KFTV (Channel 21.1), died Thursday. She had been battling cancer since late 2015.
Besides her key role in elevating the Spanish-language station in the central San Joaquin Valley market, Gutiérrez devoted herself to the efforts of various community groups.
Dora Westerlund, CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation who called Gutiérrez a friend and mentor, spent a lot of time with her during the past year. She said Gutiérrez appeared to be getting better after her last round of chemotherapy, but then had a series of strokes.
“I am blessed to have been able to spend time with her. I learned so much from her. A lot of people learned a lot from her,” Westerlund said. “She was an incredible human being.
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“People loved her. And she was very passionate for her community.”
Word of her death came through KFTV’s Germán Amezcua who said in an email that “many of us became aware of her condition, but none of us were prepared for her passing to come so quickly.
“So many of us were fortunate to have worked with Maria for 15 years or longer and we owe so much to her. Maria had a vision for our Fresno station and for us as individuals to grow and develop into what we have become today.”
People loved her. And she was very passionate for her community.
Dora Westerlund, CEO of Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation
Gutiérrez, who grew up in East Los Angeles, came to the local Univision television station in 1998 after a stint as station manager of KMEX in Los Angeles. When she took over at KFTV, Gutiérrez said she wanted to “raise the bar” at the local Spanish-language television station. She kept at that goal until she stepped down in 2012.
“We knew when we put her in that job that Maria would move to a general manager job as soon as there was an opening,” Michael Wortsman, president of the Univision Television Group, said of moving Gutiérrez to Fresno.
Gutiérrez graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. She did graduate work at USC.
Her time as the KFTV vice president was a mix of high points, such as the move to a 40,000-square-foot facility on Herndon Avenue in 2007. The building became the home for both the TV and radio stations. In a 2007 interview with the bilingual newspaper Vida en el Valle, Gutiérrez called the opening of the new facility a “watershed moment” for the Univision family.
Under her guidance, KFTV became a major force in local news with ratings for the award-winning Spanish-language station often beating some of the local English-language newscasts.
We are all better for having known her.
Germán Amezcua, KFTV operations manager
One of the biggest battles came in 2000, when several employees went on a hunger strike as a protest over wages.
After retiring, Gutiérrez remained busy with community activities. She was honored by numerous groups and organizations, including the Girl Scouts of Central California South, which named her one of three women who have made a positive impact in human services, television and the sporting world. The Big Fresno Fair also honored her.
She was the recipient of the Marjaree Mason Center Woman of the Year honor, the Humanitarian Award by the Los Angeles Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, and the American Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal Award. The Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
During her acceptance speech for the foundation award, Gutiérrez said “there is no finish line,” meaning her work in promoting Fresno and the surrounding area would never be done.
Amezcua called Gutiérrez “a fantastic leader, mentor and friend.”
“We are all better for having known her and she will remain forever in our hearts and minds. Please provide prayers for her family and friends as we all grieve this great loss.”