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Roma Downey

I Met Roma Downey and was “Touched By An Angel” at the Sarasota Film Festival

| Sande Caplin |

One of the benefits of being the website designer for the Sarasota Film Festival  is that my team and I get to attend wonderful events and films.  Last year, I had the honor of doing a one-on-one interview with actor Jacqueline Bissett.  This year, the festival celebrated it’s 25th anniversary.  And, what an anniversary it was.  Great films, great events and this year’s major attendee at the festival, actor, writer, producer, Roma Downey.

Roma was the recipient of the 2023 SFF Lifetime Achievement Award.  I was honored to be able to interview Roma one-on-one!  What a charming lady!

Many of you know Roma from her starring role in the TV show “Touched By an Angel” which also starred the late Della Reese.  The show had 211 episodes and ran from 1994-2003.   Other well-known actors who performed over the years on the show were Cloris Leachman, Valerie Bertinelli, Jasmine Buy and Wendy Phillips.  Guest stars included Wyonna Judd, Rue McClanahan, Maya Angelou, Angela Lansbury, Ann Margret, Carol Burnett, Celine Dion, Kirk Douglas, Jack Blac, and more!  The show today has reruns on cable television.  Check your cable company for times and days!

Sarasota Film Festival

Roma explained to me that she and Della became very close friends.  She told me about the eight Shi Tzu dogs that Della had which brought a smile to my face.  I showed Roma the photo of my “Mookie” and she had a great big grin.  I learned that Della, who was an ordained minister officiated at Roma’s wedding in 1994.  Della’s adoptive daughter, who Roma was also very close with passed away in 2002.  Roma explained that after Delorese passed away, she and Della became even closer, a mother/daughter relationship.  Della passed away in 2017.

 From People Magazine- Downey forged a “deep, lasting” bond with Reese after she lost her mother one week before she turned 11 years old, she recalls exclusively to PEOPLE.

“During the run of Touched by an Angel, Della’s only daughter [Deloreese] passed away,” says the star, who is honoring her late friend on her website. “Not long after, she took me into her arms and said, ‘God is so amazing, baby. I always knew that he brought me into your life because you needed a momma. I just hadn’t realized he brought you into my life because I was going to need a baby girl.’”

A second mother to Downey ever since, Reese became a fixture in Downey’s life and was by her side through all of life’s biggest milestones.

When Downey’s daughter Reilly, now 21, was born in 1996, Reese was at her baptism and named godmother. She also officiated Downey’s marriage to producer Mark Burnett in 2007.

“We all love her and we will all miss her, and of course we mourn for her,” says Downey. “But we are also so grateful for the time we shared with her. She achieved so much and she touched the hearts of everyone who knew her.”

One great story that Roma told me really sticks out.  She came from Ireland to the US in 1986.  In her twenties she had very little money.  She took a job at an upscale Manhattan restaurant as a coat check girl.  The average tip for a checked coat was twenty-five cents.  She told me that she marveled at all of the fur coats!  One day “Regis Philbin” came into the restaurant and gave Roma a twenty dollar tip.  Years later when Roma was on the Regis and Kathy show, she brought up the tip.  Regis was worried that he was cheap!  Roma said, “absolutely not.”   

Roma worked and worked different jobs and eventually got into acting.  She made a point to tell me how much she loves America as the land of opportunity.  “If you work hard, you can succeed.”  Roma said something that really stuck with me in our conversation.  “Enjoy Life, Live For Today and Take a Deep Breath.”  I am going to take her up on that!

We chatted about family and relationships and talked about her media and film company.  LightghtWorkers Media is an American Christian media and film production company helmed by President Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett and owned by MGM Holdings through MGM Television. LightWorkers Media produced the Emmy-nominated The Bible on the History channel as well as A.D. The Bible Continues on NBC, The Dovekeepers on CBS (based on the novel by Alice Hoffman), Women of the Bible on Lifetime, and Answered Prayers on TLC. They also produced the feature films Ben-Hur, Son of God, Little Boy and Woodlawn.

Wing and a Prayer

And, the grand finale!  The closing day of the film festival had an awards ceremony and the World Premier of the film “On A Wing And A Prayer.”  Based on a true story, the film had me on the edge of my seat throughout its entirety.  In this extraordinary true story of faith and survival, “On a Wing and a Prayer” follows passenger Doug White’s harrowing journey to safely land a plane and save his entire family from insurmountable danger, after their pilot dies unexpectedly mid-flight. You can watch it starting Friday, April 7, 2023, on Amazon Prime Video.  The film was written by Brian Egeston, directed by Sean McNamara, and produced by Roma Downey, Autumn Bailey-Ford and Karl Hortsmann.

Thank you, Roma Downey, for giving me the opportunity to talk with you.  And, congratulations to Mark Famiglio, Petra Ratner, Paul Ratner and the entire team for the 25th Anniversary of the Sarasota Film Festival, which was the best ever!

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