This essay was originally published in print Issue no. 6-theme WORK.
I admit, I was more than a little nervous about this interview. Interviewing someone who is known throughout the world is daunting enough, but one who is famous for being an INTERVIEW-ER? Connie Chung has received three Emmy Awards, including two for Best Interview/Interviewer—holy cow. She is one of my heroes.
But here is the thing: Connie Chung is really, really nice. She writes with exclamation marks! And throughout our email exchange, she never once made me feel like the rookie that I am. She and her family spend as much time as possible at their place in Montana, which demonstrates her impeccable taste. But best of all, Connie Chung absolutely confirmed the very premise upon which mamalode was founded: when people—regardless of their circumstances or methods—are willing to share the stories of their lives, we are all able to see the threads that bind us together.
You have a fascinating biography. Are there any career events you want to highlight?
My favorite stories were the ones in which my report exposed government wrong-doing or a societal ill…anything that resulted in “change” for some greater good.
One example: In Bangladesh, men who were spurned by young, beautiful women were known to throw acid in their faces—maiming them for life. We went there, interviewed incredibly brave women who came forward to tell their stories, men who denied the accusations and the government. We also helped two of the young women come to the U.S. for surgery. (Editor's note: Connie won the Amnesty International Human Rights Award for this report.)
Please share your connection to Montana.
One day my husband, Maury Povich, said in his deep voice, “Let's get a place in Montana!” I said, “Do you think we ought to GO there at least ONCE before 'getting a place?’” “Oh, okay.” (I had been in Montana when I covered Senator George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign, but it was a nighttime campaign stop and I saw nothing…just darkness and a crowd of people.) So (we) rented a home in the Flathead Valley over Columbus Day weekend. Wow. We negotiated with the owners of that very home to sell it to us and they did! That was 12 years ago and we go there every chance we get!
Three and a half years ago, my husband saw his dream come true. He launched a weekly newspaper in the Flathead Valley. It is called the “Flathead Beacon”—a critically-acclaimed publication (winner of Best Weekly newspaper in the state and Best Website in the state by the Montana Newspaper Association!). Maury's father, who was a legendary newspaper columnist and reporter for the Washington Post, would be so proud of Maury if he were alive today!
How did you start your career?
The semester before graduating from college, I got a job as a copy person at WTTG-TV, a Metromedia station (now Fox) in my hometown Washington, D.C. When I graduated it turned into a full-time job as “newsroom secretary.” It was 1969 and that was the only job they would offer a young, inexperienced woman.
When a job as a news writer opened up, I asked if I could have it. I was told, “We still need a newsroom secretary.” So I marched across the street to the bank, saw the teller I knew well and said, “Toni, would you like to be a star at that big TV station across the street?” She got the job and I got the job, writing for the anchorman. Yahoo!
A year later, I pushed my way to an on-air reporting job at the same station and a year after that, I was hired as a reporter for CBS News based out of Washington, D.C., reporting for Walter Cronkite. Thus began a slow and steady 35-40-year or so career.
When you started, what was your dream job?
To become Walter Cronkite (my mentor and hero).
When did you realize you wanted children?
I suppose I always wanted children. I didn't know when or how many, but there was never any decision, no question that I wanted children.
Your experience with in vitro fertilization and adoption was lengthy. How did this affect you?We wanted everything to be private. But when I decided NOT to do a television magazine program I was scheduled to do (because I was going to be the anchor and only correspondent, which would have been so, so much traveling and 24/7 work), I decided to be honest with the staff and just tell the truth. (Having a miscarriage problem—made it too difficult to proceed with the program.) Well, then wanting to have a baby got out in the press and everyone knew. We were mortified, but there was nothing we could do about it. It was strange to be on the other side of the fence. We already had a great appreciation for people who unwittingly end up in the news, but now we were them.
Fortunately, we succeeded in adopting our son Matthew when he was less than a day old. Now he’s a teenager! We are so thrilled. The timing was quite remarkable. It was a Friday. I had just learned that my dream job was over. I had been co-anchoring the CBS Evening News for a couple of years. Wow, I was filling half of Walter Cronkite’s big chair! And all of a sudden, I was hit by the news: it was good-bye to me. I could have other jobs at CBS News, but not that one anymore. The very next day, Maury and I got THE CALL. Our adoption was going through. We could embrace Matthew immediately after his birth, in the next week or two or three, our less-than a-day old Matthew would be in our arms! Serendipitous right?
When you adopted Matthew, you stayed home with him. How was the transition from high profile career to stay-at-home mom?
The change was dramatic! I was no longer getting up at the crack of dawn, working 14-18 hour days, traveling—all I did was care for our baby boy. Matthew was great! He rarely cried, was a super eater and sleeper. Later when he was able to climb out of his crib and we switched to a trundle bed, he’d wake up. Oh, those sleepless nights. Maury and I can still hear the static on our baby monitor.
What prompted your return to work?
I thought it was time to return to work. What I’ve discovered is that the toddler years are a time when those little people in sneakers need mommy and daddy to love them, play with them and care for them…but it’s okay if someone else makes sure they eat, puts on their clothes and takes care of various daily necessities. The job I had wasn’t quite as demanding as previous jobs and I could handle it. We were so fortunate to have a babysitter who stayed with Matthew until he became too old to need one. She was wonderful and loved him so much and still does!
Are you working now?
No. I think teen or pre-teen years are the time to always be around. I haven’t worked in several years, so I’ve been able to keep an eye on Matthew! I think it’s important to know who his pals are and to know their parents. I think these years are the ones in which kids can take the wrong path. I want to keep my radar extended so I know what’s going on!
What are your greatest insecurities as a mother?
Am I making the right decision? Did I handle it the right way? How could I have done that better? The self interrogation is endless. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
Tell us your fondest memory as a mother.The moment he was in my arms and Maury was trying to warm the formula; his first step (very early!); his first word “Hi!” (even to the homeless in Central Park); his first day at nursery school when he wouldn’t let me go home (sigh); so many memories—sorry there is no one thing; fast forward to his transformation now into a very cool guy!
Do you have any advice for other moms?
I believe it’s impossible for us to “have it all.” Let’s not put that kind of pressure on ourselves. We can do the job thing intensely for a period of time, and then we can shift to paying more attention to what’s at home, alternating the intensity, depending on events in our lives. Some men still seem to “have it all” but many are “getting” it and sharing duties. So, as much as you and I would like everything to be “perfect,” it’s OKAY if it ISN’T!! Chill out!!
If you could interview our readers and ask them ONE question that would really make them think, what would it be?What is really important to you? I think what many moms find is that different goals are more important at different times in their lives. I didn’t plan to have a wonderful husband and son late in my life (I am now 64.)—but I love the way it all turned out! A long career and now a loving family!
This essay was originally published in print Issue no. 6-theme WORK.