Friday, October 26, 2012

Turning the Tables Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of my interview with Veronica Andrews of Off the Shelf-Books on Tour from Danvers Community Access TV. Here is Part 2. Welcome back, Veronica!

Besides the on-camera chores, what other hats did you wear in your broadcast career? Which ones did you like most/least?
Oh my...from the bottom up: Wires, wires and more wires, connections, connections and more connections. My first out-of-studio shoot was Nancy Kerrigan's Homecoming to Stoneham, Mass., with her Gold Medal. All the networks were there, we were low man on the totem pole and it was overwhelming. Cold, cold, cold and outside all day. Because it was our community, a local shop owner let us take over his store front. We cordoned it off, had heat, coffee, bathroom, etc. and none of the big boys pushed us around. Wrap-up was something else. They were throwing monitors at me from the top of the store outside, every wire, mic, cable had to be accounted for, lifted, stored, and then taken back into the studio when we were done.
At times I acted as liaison with the studio and my city hall, school department, and so on. It sometimes made a difficult shoot; things like graduation and senior class plays were easier when people were receptive and knew what to expect, as well as us having heads up on what was expected of us.
I once got locked into Massachusetts Emergency Bunker for the whole day as big wigs and all the important people met to discuss emergency preparedness and such. It was a long day, but fascinating none the less.
Hillary Clinton was at Regis for the book It Takes a Village.  We got an invite and we were off, equipment and all. Pouring rain like you have never seen. Everybody's gear was soaked and had to be piled for the Secret Service to check. A thousand blue bags for cameras and gear, all soaking wet. Then we had to find ours and get set up. My belt buckle set off the White House wand alarm and for a moment I thought I was going to be asked to leave. Nope, just take off the belt. Hillary was amazing. On a day that must have started for her about 6 a.m., at 6 in the evening she looked fresh, beautiful and so much smaller and more petite than the TV cameras show her. She had entertained her graduating class for lunch and had posed for pictures with each and every one and their children.

As she approached this horde of reporters, writers, and novice cable people, she was asked a question and she answered it. Second question came fast and it had a bit of a bite to it. As she answered she continued to walk toward us. Third question came swiftly and it was definitely a tough one, asked by a Boston reporter. "Was today's revelation about Mr. Clinton the most embarrassing for you?" As he asked, excited as he was to have her attention, he leaned on the velvet ropes attached to big, heavy, free-standing stanchions. He pushed too far forward, the stanchions went over, first one BONG, then two Bong bong, then three. State Police, White House guards, Secret Service, local police and college police all came running in weapons drawn. In the marble walls of Regis, this sounded like an attack for sure. Once all realized the blunder, Mrs. Clinton answered his question, "No not at all. Was that your most embarrassing?" and kept right on walking. I loved it. She later told me she was so glad that I was there and a friendly face in the crowd. All I could say was "Me, too!" 

Great stories, Veronica. I can just imagine the panic of the Secret Service! According to your bio, you ran for Mayor and the State House. Tell us a little about those times.
Always active in community, I was once told "You take your citizenship to seriously" by an alderperson. I went and ordered my gravestone with that inscription and gave him the order form. He is no longer an alderperson.
I was not one to be afraid of politicians or the political machine. I was overseeing 10 PTOs and hubby was employed by the city. All we did was City, all we talked about was when our then Mayor was running unopposed once again, I just took it upon myself to challenge him. It was fascinating, funny, educational, and at times frightening. Some folks live, breath, eat, sleep and drink politics and they take it much, much too seriously for themselves and our city. They forget they represent us all, not just their beliefs, their opinions, what they wanted. I came in second in the election.

The State House and the YMCA do a program called "Youth and Government," where high school students work all year learning about their legislature and the running of our state government. Once a year they all meet at the State House for the weekend. From all over the state. They elect Governor, Council, Legislators. They appoint lobbyists. They write their bills, debate on the floor of the house, win, lose, draw, mess up, fall flat on their fact or become orators beyond their own beliefs. Our community never participated and I asked why. Typical answer: lack of interest, financial considerations, blah, blah, blah. So...I offered the after school program, got a teacher to sign on, and about 15 students showed interest. The courts funded it from the fines imposed within the community and for about 15, maybe 20 years now, our high school has sent a delegation to the State House in early March for an entire weekend. They are enthused, they get it, they learn, learn, learn and they take what they learned with them. My own daughter participated for three years and when in college she was elected to the model UN in New York and was as enthused and educated as she had been in this program. I did the program for about the first 10 years. I know where everything is in the State House and even got into the dome at the very, very top. Became acquainted with all the last five Speakers of the house and Mr. Finneran even turned on the TV cameras of channel 2 so the folks that had sent their children to the State House could watch in amazement at 400 kids BEHAVING THEMSELVES. It's a great program and well worth doing. 

 You have a long, successful marriage with five accomplished kids. What are your secrets? Any tips for young parents of today?

I am the luckiest lady alive, really. When my dysfunctional family dissolved, a neighbor was my best friend, confident, anchor throughout a time of turmoil. When I left home at 15, I left him behind. When we happened to meet again about 5 years later we never missed a step. He was and still is my very best friend. As time went on I just knew. He was a gentleman, he was respectful, loved his mom. Worked hard, enjoyed what I enjoyed, enhanced my life, lifted my spirits, helped me over pot holes on the highway of life and he loved me! Yahoo! We married in 1963 and he is the same man I married. Still the gentleman, still respectful, still works hard, still enjoys what I enjoy. He enhanced my life 1000000000000000000 fold and he still loves me. 

Our five children are a bouquet of personalities plucked from the garden of life. Each one a definite personality in their own right. Strong women, trail blazers, and hard workers. All have his values and RESPECT is the #1. Our children, all adults now, have never raised their voices to either of us, were never sent to their room or ever heard, "Wait till your father gets home." Justice was meted out immediately. Then, at the dinner table, (which is still set every night and 6:00 is mandatory suppertime) hubby (already informed of what had happened or gone on) would always ask, "How was your day?" Whoever was on the hot seat had the option of telling the truth, good bad or ugly, or taking another route. They tell us now that was cruel and abusive punishment to have to tell him what they did or didn't do. He handled it all with the same thought, remembering when he was their age, and nobody ever died of fright or punishment.
I would say RESPECT is the underlying, most important center of our success and not Aretha Franklin singing it at the top of her lungs in a spotlight. We respect them and they respect us.

Whatever you did, it seems to have been effective. More parents could learn from you. Your advocacy work in Special Education began close to home. Tell us about that.
My son, the first Special Education Student in the state that we know of, went to Middlesex Community College under the State of Massachusetts Dual Enrollment Program. (Select juniors and seniors, with the appropriate grades and with the agreement of Principal and Superintendent, can and do attend classes at community colleges. When they graduate from High School they have enough credits to have a degree from the Community College and are readily accepted into the four year college of their choice. Massachusetts pays their tuition at the Community College as long as grades and all guidelines are met.) He was and is developmentally delayed and as such was watched like a hawk throughout his education. Monitors, aides, teachers. All well intended and some of the best people and educators you would ever want to meet. However, he was never encouraged to try his wings, make his own decisions, choices, be independent and take on the world. So, I would drive him to the campus about 30 minutes from the house. I would park the car and go to a class for myself. Go to a lab and research a project, met a friend in the coffee shop. (I was astounded when Middlesex Community College awarded me scholarship along with an award. "People Who Make A Difference." I put it on hold, as I was a bit busy with 5 kids all in school.) He had to get to class, he had to find his seat, keep his materials together, listen, learn and sit through a class sometimes an hour, hour and a half-- not like high school. His first impression was, "Mum they don't ask to go to the bathroom. They eat candy during class. Sometimes they go out and don't come back." All this was part of his education as well as what he learned in his Cable TV Production class. He was invigorated and excited. The Professor, from the old school, flunked him. Refused to accept his homework and papers done with the assistance of one of the first Apple 2 computers. She expected it hand written, which was beyond him, and would not change her standards no matter how accomplished he was. Yet another hard lesson in life he had to learn. By the way, he already was a certified Cable TV Producer and did an annual program, "Fire Engines on Parade," for cable.

When his next class was computers, he was given an aide. Cute little blonde bumpkin who didn't have a clue. She handled him like chocolate that was so sweet but would melt if expected to put the heat on. I negated that help and he and I took computer courses. I was all Apple and he was ambidextrous on any and all without benefit of any instructions or manuals. I helped him with interpretation of what was expected and he helped me turn the damn IBM thing on. As always it was an experience I had never planned, but an adventure I would not have missed. We both learned much and use our skills to this day. My scholarship paid my tuition's and he was scholar shipped at graduation. Not by a committee of educational excellence, not by the ladies club, but by a group of old American Legion men who were tickled to give the scholarship to somebody they knew they would not have to worry about. 

 What other kinds of community work do you do?

My mom made me aware very early that there were things to do and if you could do it, what are you waiting for. She taught me to ask a question and question the answer. It has served me well.
I am not a small demure ladylike figure. When I speak, people listen and always having done my homework, know my facts, my rights and their foibles. My track record is pretty good. Most of all I enjoy it. I ask nicely, politely and wait. When they actually think they can and try to ignore me. There is always a way to get their attention, make many laugh and they wish they had answered me or done what I asked. I can remember when the community was going to close an elementary school. We lobbied for months and couldn't get them to change their minds. So we all showed up in maternity clothes and told them to get ready for an influx. The school was not closed. When Handicap Parking places don't get painted at a busy school drop off and I ask and ask and ask… Oh my they didn't like it at all when they looked out their windows and saw son and me with a pot of blue paint, painting the parking spots ourselves ! Amazingly enough when and if I ask now, they are usually painted within a day or two. What I have learned trailing along with my children has proven to be beneficial to others and it's great to share. Special Education is a world unto itself and one doesn't forget those hard won battles. I will always advise and accompany any parent to a SpEd Meeting or Mediation. Sometimes my presence is enough to make the powers that be behave. But...I don't say a word. I try to teach the parents they are the best advocate for their children. I sit behind them with a 4 inch hat pin. I tell them if they don't speak up loud and clear for their child I will stick them with the pin. They do a good job, more afraid of me than the pin. I have never had to stick anyone and the children as well as parents have always benefited from the experience. 

You have accomplished so much in your life. Is there anything you wanted to do that you haven't gotten to yet?
Like I said when this began, I am the luckiest lady alive. I can actually remember a time when I didn't think I would ever see 21. Every dream I have ever dreamt, every wish I ever had has been gifted me in triplicate. So much accomplishment has been dumped into my lap that I never, ever expected. I guess in part "Luck of the Irish" as I was born Veronica McGowan. Born with it, not educated to it.

The story goes I was christened on Armistice Day. There was a blizzard in our home town. Mum wasn't staying in, as was the custom then, with this kid one more day. She bundled me up and walked to the church. The priest was my godfather, the cleaning lady my godmother. I was to be Veronica Armistice McGowan. The priest saw the gleam in my eyes and knew there would be no peace with me around and refused to name me Armistice. So I have gone through life without a middle name, but I have lived up to his expectations and more importantly I have enjoyed every minute.
How else would I have met Nikki and many other famous and interesting people?

Life is good.. 

Veronica, thank you so much for your time and your wonderful stories. It was a pleasure meeting you for Off the Shelf-Books on Tour, and delightful getting to know you better. I’ll let you know when Framed  is made into a movie… If my gentle readers would like to see Veronica in action, here is the link to the interview we did for TV: