Carmen Marie DiRienzo Carmody, a former VP and lawyer for the WNET Group in New York City, died July 19 at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital from health complications caused by cancer. She was 65.
“Carmen was a bright spark — smart, interesting, funny and a tough negotiator … who had a passion and love for The WNET Group,” wrote Kellie Specter, chief marketing and engagement officer, in a note to staff. “We were lucky to have Carmen, and she will always be remembered.”
As VP and managing director for corporate affairs from 1995–2006, DiRienzo, who used her family name professionally, oversaw external relations, business development, operations and administration for WNET. Her role included supervising administration of Current, which WNET managed financially until 2011.
DiRienzo was an early advocate for WNET’s merger with WLIW in Long Island, N.Y., she said in a 2012 interview for Pioneers of Thirteen. She also led business development of Vme, a Spanish-language digital multicast channel that WNET launched in public TV distribution in 2007.
In the Pioneers of Thirteen interview, DiRienzo described WNET’s conversion from analog to digital broadcasting as one of the most significant changes the station went through during her tenure. It was also the most heartbreaking.
Two months after WNET installed its first digital transmitter on Tower One of the World Trade Center, Rod Coppola, a WNET engineer who maintained the transmitter, was among the nearly 3,000 people killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
DiRienzo had been at the World Trade Center on Sept. 10 for meetings, she said in the interview. “I don’t know what the right word to say is, but it was very odd to have been there the day before,” she said. “We lost Rod. It was a really terrible, terrible loss.”
WNET was also knocked off the air and lost $20 million worth of equipment. Shortly after the attacks, it resumed broadcasting from a backup tower in New Jersey and began airing New York Voices, prime-time specials hosted by Bill Moyers and children’s shows about 9/11. The station also donated phones and office space for emergency hotlines.
“Carmen was the heart and brains of the station, respected by all. She guided the operation with a strong, loving and values-filled kindness that we all appreciated,” said Bill Baker, WNET president from 1987–2008, in a statement that was read at her funeral. “Often, she saved the day in personnel, programming and service matters she managed. She was always the first person I consulted during a crisis.”
RoseLynn Marra, who works in station relations for WNET, gave a eulogy during the funeral and also shared a statement from PBS President Paula Kerger, who was EVP and COO for WNET until taking PBS’ top job in 2006.
DiRienzo “had an unstoppable drive, endless enthusiasm, and an enduring commitment to the work at the station,” Kerger said. “She cared deeply about her colleagues, which was especially evident in all she did following the horror of 9/11. She made sure that the station stayed strong and was able to meet the needs of a community that needed our work more than ever, but she was also mindful of all of the struggles that each employee faced and took the time to ensure that everyone felt supported.”
Guillermo Sierra, former CCO for Vme, said DiRienzo’s vision for the service was compelling.
“Carmen believed that Hispanic families in the United States deserved to have the same level of educational and inspiring content than what was available for English-language speakers on PBS,” he said in a statement for the funeral. “She declared that Vme … would be the television channel that would reflect where the Latin community was going, not where it had come from. This powerful reference became the guiding principle to differentiate the network from all others.”
DiRienzo stepped down from the company in 2011 but remained on the board of directors. In 2016, Vme dropped its public TV business model to become a commercial cable service.
DiRienzo provided consulting services to public media organizations, working with stations including South Florida PBS, according to Marra, who also worked at Vme.
DiRienzo was born Sept. 8, 1955, in Katonah, N.Y., according to a Westchester Funeral home obituary. Her father, Carmine DiRienzo, was a stone quarry owner and operator in Yonkers, N.Y.; her mother, Lucretia DiRienzo, née Caporaso, was a homemaker who also worked at an electronics company in Tuckahoe, N.Y., Marra told Current.
After attending Tuckahoe High School, DiRienzo graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University and obtained her juris doctorate with honors from George Washington University. She later worked as an attorney in private practice, specializing in labor and employment law for broadcast and entertainment clients, including PBS; WNET; Westinghouse Broadcasting; WWOR-TV in Secaucus, N.J.; WETA in Washington, D.C.; GBH in Boston; and KCET in Los Angeles.
DiRienzo met her husband, Tom, through her first law partner, Don Carmody, who is Tom’s cousin. The couple married in 1987 and lived in Mount Kisco, N.Y., before moving back to Katonah.
Carmen enjoyed traveling with her husband and family, Marra recalled. She also played golf, loved Broadway and planned splendid house parties, she added. DiRienzo served on the boards of Ballet Hispanico, St. Bernadette Catholic Academy in New York and the U.S. Advisory Board of IESE Graduate School of Business of the University of Navarre in Barcelona.
She is survived by her mother; her husband; her stepsons Christian (Erin) and Colin (Victoria) and their children; her sister, Joan DiRienzo; her brother, Louis (Carol) and their sons.
The family requested memorial donations be made to St. Bernadette Catholic Academy; Assumption of Our Lady Church in Tuckahoe, N.Y.; the Cardiac Unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center; or local public television stations.