By: Gail Bennison
By: Courtney Dabney
I think when people watch me on the news, they expect me to act a certain way off camera. I wish I had a dollar for every person who’s told me, “You’re so much more down to earth than what I expected.” Sure, I grew up in Southern California, but my parents rented all the modest houses we lived in and my mother took a second job every Christmas to afford gifts for me and my brother. I went to a pricey private university in an affluent area of Orange County, but what people don’t know is that I paid my own way through college. In fact, I’ve worked really hard for everything in life, and that has given me not only a sense of humility, but also an appreciation for even the smallest things.
I believe in making things happen, even if the method is unconventional. When my parents told me they couldn’t help me pay for college, I took matters into my own hands. I called the producers of the then-popular game show Hollywood Squares and begged them to let me be a contestant so I could win money to pay for school. I didn’t just call once. I called several times a day for weeks. Finally, someone must have had enough of my voicemails, because I eventually got a call back to audition. I appeared on the show and ended up knowing enough random trivia (I knew it would come in handy at some point) to win $16,000. Between that money, my loans and grants, I was able to attend Chapman University. I’m proud to say that I earned my degree in broadcast journalism and graduated with honors.
My first job, however, was the opposite of glamorous. I moved to a small town in West Virginia, where for the first three months I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor because I could not afford to ship my bed — or buy a new one for that matter (these were “pre-Craigslist” days). I also didn’t own pots or pans, so I microwaved my meals, which usually consisted of hot dogs. I made very little money, and I worked long days. I anchored the newscast, but I also shot my own stories, edited, wrote, ran tapes and produced. I did everything except sweep the floors! I didn’t complain, worked hard and was grateful for the opportunity, despite being broke and away from family and friends.
Since then, I have worked as an anchor and reporter in Pittsburgh, Pa., where I covered the crash of Flight 93 on 9/11. That was an experience that will not only stick with me forever, but also taught me how quickly our life can be taken from us. Now I make sure to really appreciate every single day I am alive and treat it as a gift that may not be there the following day. I have reported on, and have seen, a lot of gruesome things that I will never forget. I use them all as reminders to count my blessings and always keep a heart of gratitude.
Most recently before coming to North Texas, I worked in Los Angeles for close to eight years. LA is the second largest television market in the country, and it was my choice to leave it behind for a life in the Lone Star State (the fifth largest TV market – not too shabby, either!). While LA was a good place for my career to flourish, I often felt like a fish out of water there. It was the down-to-earth mentality of the people here, and all that the area has to offer, that made me want to start a new life in North Texas.
Since moving in July of 2012, I have felt welcome and “at home.” When I’m not working, I’m usually wearing jeans and a T-shirt and watching sports or catching a good concert. Because I attended a Division III school, I have enjoyed embracing all of the Texas college teams. In fact, I went to see Texas A&M take on the LSU Tigers at Kyle Field last October. I have no ties to the Aggies; I just love watching good football games. I’ve also made it to a few Cowboys games, Mavs games and am looking forward to catching the Rangers and (as of this writing, hopefully) the Stars this year.
People are always going to make assumptions about you based on your job, where you’re from, even your hair color. But I enjoy meeting CBS 11 viewers and letting them find out first-hand that they really are tuning in to the girl next door, who has worked really hard to achieve success and who couldn’t be happier to be a Texan.
By: Gail Bennison
By: Courtney Dabney