Thursday, November 12, 2009

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Face to Face: An interview with Candy O’Terry
Candidly Candy

 

A quick tour of radio personality Candy O’Terry’s character-filled colonial in Wellesley’s old Cliff Estates that she recently renovated with Tom Gaffny, her husband of three years, reveals a lifetime of memories and accomplishments. Signs of two of the most important things in the couple’s life, family and career, are abundantly present throughout the home. Photographs of O’Terry’s two children Colleen, 27, and Christopher, 29; three stepchildren, Tom, 23, David, 21, and Lauren, 19; and four-year-old grandson Benjamin are proudly displayed in every room, and one wall even has spaces reserved for photos of future grandchildren. An entire corner of the chef’s kitchen is devoted to clay art lovingly crafted by little hands many years ago, and the light-filled sunroom is a shrine to childhood with much-loved teddy bears, children’s books, and a pair of Colleen’s pink and white saddle shoes on display waiting to inspire a story or two. The living room is a tribute to O’Terry’s career and is the showcase for the fifteen Gracie Allen Awards she has received throughout the years (a record number for any radio or television program) for her Exceptional Women radio program.

Collecting these memories hasn’t always been easy for this petite and vivacious longtime Wellesley resident with a perfectly polished voice. She is still haunted by the death of her mother after a four-year battle with breast cancer when Candy was just 18 years old. She moved to Boston from her native Connecticut to join the Boston College diving team, graduated with a degree in English, and married young. After a painful divorce, the young mother raised her two small children alone and had to find a way to make ends meet financially. In need of a full-time job for the health insurance benefits, O’Terry accepted a temporary position as secretary to Wellesley resident Don Kelley, Program Director at Magic 106.7 FM. Nineteen years later, O’Terry is still at Magic where she has risen to the top of her field thanks to hard work and “being a sponge,” soaking up every bit of advice and information that came her way.

Her daughter Colleen, now a publicist for the Green Restaurant Association, and son, Christopher, a police officer and EMT on Martha’s Vineyard, grew up spending many nights sleeping on the newsroom floor while their mom worked the graveyard shift, paying her dues to get the necessary air time to make a name for herself. Today, O’Terry is Magic 106.7’s Assistant Program Director, co-host of Afternoon Drive with Dan Justin, creator and co-host of the award-winning Exceptional Women radio program, and president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio and Television/New England. A singer all her life (she used to sing commercial jingles and fronted a 1980s band), Candy has three songs on the radio. Her latest, “You Are the Only One,” recorded with local rock icon Charlie Farren, debuted at Number 34 on the Adult Contemporary Chart. A career in television and film is next on Candy’s “bucket” list, and she has enjoyed mentoring unknown singers as a judge on Community Auditions: Star of the Day on WBZ-TV and TV 38 for two seasons. She recently landed a small part in a feature film, CO2, produced by Wild Beagle Productions, where she will be playing the role of Candace Malone, a newscaster and reporter.

 

It’s hard to believe she would have a moment to spare, but in the summer this lifelong teacher can be found at Meadowbrook Day Camp in Weston where she has run the swimming program since 1987.

Apart from a few tears shed, the interview had many humorous moments as O’Terry very candidly shared the details of how she rose from the low point of a devastating divorce and financial hardship to become one of Boston’s best-loved media personalities.

WellesleyWeston Magazine: When you began your career at Magic 106.7 your children were young. What was it like living in Wellesley as a single mother and working in Boston at a demanding job?

Candy O’Terry: It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s what I’m most proud of. Back in the late 80s, early 90s, Wellesley was much more homogenous than it is now. In fact, I was one of the only parents at the Hunnewell School who was separated, and my children and I had a very hard time. I think that when you’re placed in a really challenging situation like that, you can cry yourself a river or you can stand up and get yourself together. And I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t fall down a lot, because I really did. My father has always played a major role in our lives. He’s our hero and was there to take care of Chris and Colleen every day after school. Father John Philbin, who was the pastor at St. John’s Church at the time, was my guardian angel. You don’t have to go very far in this town to find people with open hearts.

WW: How did you get your start in radio?

CO: I went through a moment when I literally had to sit down and take an inventory of what my skills and talents were, and what I came up with was this: You have a degree with honors from Boston College in English, you have been teaching preschool and children how to swim in the summertime at Meadowbrook, and you do voiceover work and sing jingles. Now, what could I do that would use all those skills? I remember thinking that radio could be a good career for me because I have been singing these songs all my life and I’m interested in the artists who sing them on the radio. Little did I know when I started working for Don Kelley that I was working for someone who really believes in mentoring. When God closes a door, He opens a window.

WW: Why do you think you have been so successful in such a tough field?

CO: I’ll tell you what I think is the secret to being successful in radio: It’s being who you are and revealing yourself to listeners. I think I showed my vulnerability and Magic listeners were very patient with me; they let me grow on the radio. I talked about being a single mother, and I shared my experiences with them. One day I was completely stressed out, and my shoe fell off as I was running to catch the train. And I just had to keep on running, because I couldn’t be late for work! So I talked about it on the air. I said: “If you happen to be in Auburndale, and you find a pump, a white pump…” A limo driver drove to Auburndale, found my shoe, and brought it to me at the radio station. All my life I have shared these stories. It’s kind of like my own version of reality TV before its time.

 

WW: As the founder and co-host (with News Director Gay Vernon) of Magic 106.7’s Exceptional Women program, you honor and celebrate women who have had to overcome obstacles to achieve success in their lives. What or who was the inspiration behind this program?

CO: The need to create the show was based around the fact that my mother wasn’t done with me when she died. I always say to people, “I wasn’t fully cooked.” You know, mothers and daughters, we want to mold them, shape them, and baste them a little bit. So I searched for role models. In 1992 I got the opportunity to interview a young woman who was an incest and domestic abuse survivor. When the interview was over, I remember sitting and crying, and I said to myself, “You know, Candace, you have nothing to complain about. There is a role model for you.” So I went home that night, started brainstorming ideas, and I came up with an idea for a show: Exceptional Women: Radio portraits of women who will inspire you.

WW: What qualities do you seek when deciding who to interview for your program?

CO: I have found that women who pitch themselves aren’t always the best candidates. It’s the woman who says, “I can’t believe my best friend nominated me for this; I am so not exceptional.” They have the best stories because they are “backyard heroes.”

WW: You and Gay have interviewed more than 400 fascinating women. Are there any who really stand out in your mind?

CO: Exceptional women are everywhere. One of my most memorable interviews was with Magi Bish [mother of murdered teen Molly Bish]. She wore her grief on her shoulders, but it didn’t weigh her down; it lifted her. I learned about grace. I’m telling you, these exceptional women blow my mind. And then you sit in the Four Seasons with someone like Mariah Carey who people say is a diva. Well it’s true she was three hours late, but when she got there, I found her to be a breath of fresh air. She was so real and engaging. Her talent emanates from her body. That’s why she’s a star.

WW: Who have been the exceptional women in your life?

CO: My daughter is my exceptional woman. She is everything I wish I was when I was growing up, and I’m so proud that I was able to mother her. It wasn’t always easy, you know, girls can be a challenge, but we were always very honest with each other.

WW: You came to Boston to swim and dive at Boston College, and you have been heading up the swim program at Meadowbrook Day Camp in Weston since 1987. Do you have a philosophy about teaching kids to swim?

CO: They say there are certain things that make your heart sing, and that is what swimming does for me. I love the feeling of being in the water, I love the peace that I find in swimming and for someone who is as outgoing as I am, I am completely quiet when I’m swimming. My philosophy is this: Children cannot be taught how to swim in water that is anywhere near their head. It has to be below the neck and ideally at their stomach when they first get started, because if you put a child in water that’s too deep, they feel threatened and vulnerable. Our whole program is about water adjustment and teaching a child to listen to the sound of his or her body in the water.

 

WW: You have the opportunity to listen to music all day long while at work at Magic 106.7. What songs give you inspiration?

CO: I’ll tell you right off the bat who I’m impressed with lately: Taylor Swift. I’m delighted to see a level headed, humble, well-adjusted young woman come along and conquer the world. A young local woman to watch is Grace Kelly, a singer, songwriter, and saxophonist in her sophomore year at Berklee College of Music. The other girl I have my eye on is from Wellesley: singer/songwriter Sarah Blacker.

WW: After 15 years as a single parent, you now have an exceptional man in your life. What was it about Tom that let you know he was Mr. Right? There must have been plenty of toads along the way.

CO: None. I didn’t date. I had two goals: one was to make my children feel loved and cared for 24 hours a day. I didn’t think that I had room in my heart to do anything but that. And then I had this career, and I had big goals and dreams. Then when my son got married I remember thinking that now it was okay to find a place in my heart for someone else. The next weekend I joined Match.com. I didn’t say who I was or what I did for a living and I had 4,039 hits to my profile. I talked to three men online, and one of them was Tom. After two weeks I realized that there was one person who wrote brilliantly, asked me the most wonderful questions, and listened to my answers, so I agreed to meet him for a drink. We were married a year and a half later. It’s the kind of love story you dream about.

WW: If you were interviewing Candy O’Terry on your Exceptional Women program, what is the one question you would be sure to ask her?

CO: I guess it would be really personal. A lot of people ask me, “Where do your energy and your passion come from? Are you always this cheerful? My answer is: My energy and passion come from always wanting to do the right thing. My father has always been my biggest fan. He believes in me. He’s my moral compass and I don’t ever want to let him down. I’m all grown up now, but sometimes I look up and whisper the words “are you proud of me?” to my mom. I want to use my gifts and talents in this life. I believe very deeply that good goes around. I want to be memorable. When you leave a conversation with me, I want you to think to yourself, “She’s a good person.” That matters to me. I think about that a lot.

 

 

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