PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Jane Pauley is one of the best known TV personalities of our time. She’s a longtime journalist who digs deep and loves to tell stories about lessons learned.
Pauley was in Pittsburgh recently to speak at the Pittsburgh Speakers Series at Heinz Hall, and Kristine Sorensen got to sit down and talk with her while she was in town.
You may remember Pauley when she was a fresh-faced 25-year-old, just tapped to co-anchor “The Today Show” in 1976, or when, 13 years later, she hosted “Dateline.” Now, she is the new host of “CBS Sunday Morning.”
“Coming full circle, 40 years later, that’s astonishing,” Pauley told Sorensen.
“Even a year ago, I still haven’t gotten over it,” she says of the year since she was asked to take over as host of “CBS Sunday Morning.”
Pauley says at age 67, she’s confident hosting the number one Sunday morning news show, unlike her first foray into network news.
“I was 25-years-old when I was Tom Brokaw’s partner on ‘The Today Show.’ It wasn’t amazing. It was stupid. It was ridiculous, and I don’t know how it happened… talk about unprepared,” Pauley said.
It was that candid, self-depracating, warm personality that ingratiated her with viewers.
Her path into television began when she joined the speech and debate team at her high school in Indianapolis because she didn’t make high school cheerleader.
“That was the crushing disappointment of my life,” Pauley said, “because I’d been a cheerleader in junior high but never made the bigtime, but in my heartache, I was free to discover a talent I didn’t know I had,” she said.
Pauley went on to win in extemporaneous speaking and serve as governor of “Girls State,” a summer leadership and citizenship program.
She, and her sister, Ann, who lives in Murrysville, are both trailblazers. Ann was one of the first women to head a global high tech manufacturing company at Westinghouse and Emerson Electric in Pittsburgh.
“I trumpet Pittsburgh to people,” Pauley says of the 40-plus years she has been visiting her sister here. “You’ve got the fortunes, Frick, Mellon, Carnegie. I know how to pronounce Carnegie,” she says, with the accent on the middle syllable as only Pittsburghers say it.
What many people don’t know is that Jane Pauley suffers from bi-polar disorder. It was triggered suddenly at age 50 by a medication she was given to get rid of hives. She spent three weeks in a New York psychiatric hospital and has had it under control ever since, with the help of medication and advocacy.
“The advocacy that I’m able to do, like talking about it now, there’s a lot of science to this point that giving support is as therapeutic as getting it,” she says.
Pauley’s openness about her mental illness has made a difference in lives, as did her role as a female broadcaster.
“People were very aware that not only did we have working women, but working moms in the morning,” Pauley says of her pregnant figure on the network news. “I was aware that the optics were more significant than just conducting an interview in the morning.”
Pauley has always been comfortable on camera, sometimes more than in other situations.
“Now you put me at a cocktail party, even now, even now I walk into a room with strangers, and I’m a little nervous,” she told Sorensen.
This television icon, role model and regular visitor to Pittsburgh came from a family with humble beginnings.
Sorensen asked her, “How is it that two people from the same family, two sisters, rose to such high levels in their fields? Do you think it was something in your backgrounds?”
Pauley replied, “Maybe there was something. What we have in common is given an opportunity we felt unprepared for, challenges that were a little beyond us, a lot beyond us in my case, we would say ‘yes.'”
You can learn more about Pauley in her two books, “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue,” a biography, and her more recent book, “Your Life Calling,” about baby boomers reinventing themselves later in life.