March 2000: Vol. 79, No. 2

A whole new realm

Ann Hearn is into role-playing, whether it's in front of a camera, as a Web game master—or just being Mom.

By Alex Crevar

Ann Hearn is munching on a reuben sandwich at Jerry's Deli in Studio City, Calif., and laughing about her freshman year of college in 1971, when she was so panicked that big-school life would engulf her.

Hearn (MFA '79), a Griffin native, leads three very different lives: Hollywood actress, DragonRealms game master, and mother of two young sons.
"I decided to go to Georgia to stop the perpetuation of my terrors," says Hearn (MFA '79), who has come a long way from her days as a meek, small-town girl in Griffin. In 1979, the former medieval English major moved to Los Angeles to give acting a try. In 1984, she got her break, cast as the Southern girl in the Emmy-winning TV movie, "The Dollmaker," starring Jane Fonda.

"It gave me the clout to get a real agent," says Hearn, who parlayed that opportunity into a role on "ER," in the TV miniseries "A Woman of Independent Means," and in numerous stage productions with the L.A. Theater Center.

For most people with two children and a husband who's also a successful actor, that would have been enough. But Hearn has added another kind of role-playing to her hectic schedule—game master of DragonRealms.

For the uninitiated, DragonRealms is a Web game based in rich, imagined mythology and other-world exploration.

"The game summoned the part of me that was the girl in Griffin who read every book in the library and spent an entire summer reading Morte d'Artur," says Hearn, who was hooked on DragonRealms from the first time she logged on.

After playing it for a year, she was so caught up in the game's adventures that she wrote a poem about them and submitted it to the DragonRealms feedback page. The game's designers liked her poem so much they made her a game master. Her principal task is to create and script new scenarios for as many as 1,300 players who are on-line at once, each attempting to accumulate "wealth" and "experience" points. Hearn also mediates player disputes and has to discipline players when they get out of line with foul language.

"I am spurred on by taking players through dark rooms and weathered trails to meet with monsters and treasure," says Hearn. "The satisfaction is when you realize that adults are having a good time acting out kid-like fantasies in a world of text-only pretend. It's a way to regain parts of our past through long, written correspondence with a community of friends—and I like being a part of what I consider the lost art of written correspondence."

DragonRealms has not supplanted her acting career, but it's something Hearn can do from home—and that's important when you have two young sons—Robert, 10, and William, 5—to look after. Hearn is married to well-known character actor and director Steve Tobolowsky ("Groundhog Day" and "Sneakers"), and his schedule also makes it hard for her to pursue acting jobs right now.

"In the best of all worlds, I could do it all," says Hearn with a mischievous smile. "But I would not take anything for my family. I am just going to outlive all the competition and start playing all the crazy old lady roles."

Drive time is her time

L.A. broadcaster Carol Ramos gets up in the middle of the night to report the news. If all goes well, her ratings will be higher than her husband's.

By Alex Crevar

It's 4:30 in the morning, but Carol Ramos is already sitting at her desk at KABC-AM in Los Angeles. Hunkered would actually be a better verb because Ramos' foxhole of an office is cluttered with TV screens, wire service printers, news bulletins, and newspapers from every corner of the U.S. At the center of it all is KABC's morning news anchor, whose job is to make sure her listeners don't tune elsewhere—especially to her husband's news radio station.

Ramos (ABJ '79) is the morning news anchor at KABC-AM in Los Angeles. Her husband is a part-time anchor at rival KNX-AM.
"I take everything that happens in the world and write it for the top and bottom of every hour," says Ramos (ABJ '79), who is reading dispatches from AP and Reuters and typing news copy into her computer. "I write everything myself. A lot of stations just use people who rip and read—but that's not journalism."

Ramos moves to the radio booth, where she trades barbs with the morning talk show hosts. The music comes up and her role changes. From behind an old-fashioned microphone the size of her head, Ramos speaks with the speed of a car salesman—two minutes of compressed, hard-news stories.

"I get to deliver the facts, which is my passion," says Ramos, who grew up Puerto Rican—and blond—in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, which is traditionally Irish, Italian, and Jewish. Ramos' childhood idol was a little-known New York television reporter named Geraldo Rivera.

"My aunt and I were walking outside the ABC studios when out came Geraldo!" says Ramos, who was 13 at the time. "My aunt told him I wanted to be a reporter just like him. He kissed my hand and took us on a tour of the studio. He was so cute and reported the news with passion and caring. I knew it was my calling."

That dream took Ramos to UGA, where she attended classes with the likes of Deborah Norville (ABJ '79), who has since won an Emmy for "Special Edition." Ramos began her career in radio for CBS in San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, she held two jobs in Chicago—one at a Spanish-language station and another at WBBM-AM, where she met her husband, Richard Helton. Ramos and Helton became a couple after Ramos moved to L.A.

Ramos' biggest shock came as a young reporter interviewing with NBC. A vice president told her she could have a job covering Central America—on the condition that she dye her hair black and wear dark contact lenses to look more Latino. She refused.

Ramos has been with KABC since 1997, and Helton now works as a street reporter and part-time news anchor at rival KNX-AM. There are mornings when they report the news head-to-head.

"We are rivals because the stations are rivals, but it doesn't go home," says Ramos. "We actually phone each other at work with tips. It's great to have a spouse who understands the language of what you do. Our dream is to host a talk show together."

Giving the gift of sight

In make-shift clinics in remote areas of Honduras, an Athens optometrist gives villagers the gift of sight.

By Laura Wexler

Sometimes Richard Kimmich sees 300 patients in one day. They come on horseback or on foot. They line up in whatever concrete block school, or shed, or tin-roofed church he's jerry-rigged for a clinic. They wait patiently to see el medico americano. For some, he is the first and only eye doctor they'll see in their lives.

There's no electricity, so Kimmich (BS '72, MS '74) uses a pen light to peer into his patients' eyes. He speaks to them in Spanish, which he's learned in the 10 years he's been coming to Honduras. "I'm there to treat their chief complaint. They tell me what's wrong, and I look for it," says Kimmich. "If they have an infection, I treat it. If something looks life-threatening, I tell them."

Kimmich (BS '72, MS '74) brings glasses and medical care to Honduran villagers whose eyesight is failing.
In most cases, he reaches into one of the four footlockers he's hauled from Athens, and selects a pair of glasses.

"Everybody there past the age of 40 loses the ability to read," says Kimmich. "They can't see to sew, can't dig the splinters out of their fingers. These are people who don't know what their children look like."

With his hand-me-down glasses and medicines collected from Athens-area doctors, Kimmich can restore villagers' eyesight and enable them to carry out routine tasks which had become difficult or impossible.

Kimmich, who practices optometry in Athens, is not in Honduras under the auspices of any organization or volunteer group. Each year, he collects supplies, buys a plane ticket, and flies to Honduras on his own. Once there, missionaries house him and ferry him from village to village—a different one each day. "If I ever went back to the same village," he says, "I'd be overwhelmed by the numbers."

He got his first glimpse of Third World medicine in 1978 on a trip to Haiti with a volunteer club from the Southern College of Optometry, where he was earning his degree. "The first day I actually got to help people, and I realized how much I liked it," he says. "I figured I'd always be able to find a week to do it."

True to his word, Kimmich visited Haiti every year until the political situation became such that the state department advised him to select a different destination. Since then, he's made a habit of going to Honduras twice a year, both on his own and as an adviser to the same kind of student volunteer club he belonged to.

After 10 years as an itinerant, Kimmich plans to establish a permanent clinic on the Honduran island of Roatan, an area devastated by Hurricane Mitch. If that works out, Kimmich will spend a month in the clinic each year.

Besides the tangible aid he dispenses to others, Kimmich's weeks in Honduras benefit him personally. "Being in Honduras is a chance to return to the pure aspects of the practice," he says. "These days, it's almost impossible to do anything medical without thinking about money—it costs to go to school, to run a practice, to get insurance. When you remove the financial aspects, it's a beautiful thing."

Laura Wexler is a former assistant editor of Georgia Magazine.

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