Becky Hoffman: Produced news and joy

In mid-life, Becky Hoffman decided she wanted to be a drummer. She found a percussionist from the Atlanta Symphony as a teacher, and in a short time she formed her own trio that played around Atlanta. Courtesy of the family.
In mid-life, Becky Hoffman decided she wanted to be a drummer. She found a percussionist from the Atlanta Symphony as a teacher, and in a short time she formed her own trio that played around Atlanta. Courtesy of the family.

Former Atlanta television producer Becky Hoffman never missed the opportunity to follow a dream.

In the late 1970s as she was nearing 40 years old, Hoffman decided she wanted to be a drummer and sought out an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra percussionist to teach her. Within months, she was performing in local night spots as leader of the Becky Peterzell Trio.

“She believed that people should not just dream but seize their ambitions,” said younger brother Roy Hoffman, a writer in Fairhope, Ala.

Becky Peterzell Hoffman, an award-winning Atlanta television producer, licensed New York City tour guide, drummer, world traveler and devoted mother and grandmother died of cancer last Saturday, her 78th birthday.

Her funeral service was Thursday in, Mobile, Ala.

Hoffman worked in television in Atlanta in the 1980s, winning several awards as a producer of in-depth health news coverage on WXIA-TV.

“You saw a pretty face on the air, but Becky was behind the scenes and the backbone of the story,” said Martha Lawrence, the station’s archivist for nearly 30 years. “She spent hours and hours on these stories, and she got results. She was phenomenal.”

Her interviewing skills spilled over into all parts of her life, serving her well in a variety of jobs and helping her develop a wide circle of friends, her family said.

Hoffman’s diverse career included stints teaching at Georgia State University, running tours of the Western national parks and being a licensed tour guide in New York City.

A drum set and African djembe in her home were a testament to her love of music.

“She had the happy gene,” said daughter Lezlee Peterzell-Bellanich, who is a singer-songwriter and co-owner of a charter boat company in Nyack, N.Y. “She soaked up every day of life.”

Born Rebecca Annette Hoffman on May 4, 1941, she grew up in Mobile in a tight-knit family.

She was a cheerleader at Murphy High School and Tulane University, enjoyed playing ball with neighbors, dancing the jitterbug in the living room, water skiing in Mobile Bay and attending Sabbath services at Springhill Avenue Temple.

“She had a zest for life,” brother Roy said.

Hoffman graduated in 1963 from Sophie Newcomb, the women’s college at Tulane, and married Tulane law student Marc Peterzell. They lived briefly in Manhattan before settling in Atlanta, where she obtained a Master’s in Education from Georgia State University. She became an instructor at GSU in the 1970s and traveled the state in the Georgia Art bus, instilling a passion for the arts in students.

Her work at WXIA began in 1983 and lasted into the early 1990s.

Linda Bouwman, a photographer at the station, worked with her and remained her friend for 40 years.

“She had a bubbly personality, and anywhere she went made people happy and comfortable in doing stories,” Bouwman said.

Hoffman helped many while there, including assisting a homeless Vietnam veteran and world-class drummer who needed disability benefits, Lawrence said.

Son Scott Peterzell, an Atlanta financial planner, described Hoffman as “an amazing energy force” who was always the first person out of bed in their house in the mornings.

“She was a feminist before it was cool, hanging condoms on the refrigerator for my friends,” he said.

Daughter Lezlee said: “She was the most joyful person I’ve ever known. She knew the difference between problems and inconveniences.”

After a divorce, Hoffman traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, first solo and then with companions.

She maintained a condo in the Atlanta area and an apartment in New York,

Longtime friend and Atlanta realtor Jackie Goodman said visitors to the condo were expected to remove their shoes and cover their feet with booties from a basket by the door to protect the white carpet where she practiced yoga.

Strangers who came into Hoffman’s life weren’t strangers for long. She wouldn’t wait for an introduction. She’d say: “Hi. I’m Becky,” and then start asking the person “a million questions, almost as if she was interviewing them,” Goodman said.

In New York, she became a licensed tour guide, a feat she said was more difficult than earning her master’s, and would invite her four grandchildren to spend summers there with her, one at a time.

In Hoffman’s final days, people were still calling, asking if she could take them on a New York tour. Lying in a hospital bed but in the perkiest voice, she’d say: “I’m so sorry. I’m already booked that day,” Goodman recalled.

On the last day of her 77th year, Hoffman told family she’d had a “wonderful life.”

“I just want more of it,” she said, giving her loved ones a last request: “When I’m not here, you go – you do it for me.”

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Winship Cancer Institute at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Survivors include daughter Lezlee Peterzell-Bellanich, son Scott Peterzell, sister Robbie Hoffman, brother Roy Hoffman, and grandchildren River, Skye, Zoe and Griffin.

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