By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
If there's one thing Canadians cherish, it's their traditions. When the Tim Hortons down the street recently closed for repairs for a few days, my husband forgot how to function. Likewise, the cancellation of the 2004 hockey season has thrust many diehard fans into a state of agonizing boredom. So it wasn't surprising that when venerable Global Television weather anchor Susan Hay left her job in October 2001 to try something new, many Ontarians were stunned.
Susan Hay says her visit to Africa with World Vision in 2003 was "the best thing I ever did personally and in my career." She began sponsoring nine-year-old Assiva from Mozambique (pictured).
"People came up to me and said they missed me so much. I started wondering if I'd done the wrong thing," says Hay, 43. "The public just loves to see you."
But the public tuned in when she began hosting Susan Hay's Heart of the City (still with Global), a series of twice-weekly two-minute reports on Canadian community builders that eventually evolved into half-hour shows. For the naturally charismatic Hay, it was the chance to veer 12 years of weather reporting at Global -- and 20 years overall -- and pour her energies into something closer to her passion -- directly connecting with the community and profiling worthy causes.
"It was all about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, making a difference in their community," she says. "It was a lot of work, but it was really satisfying."
The dynamic 23-year media career Hay has built is a far cry from what the North Bay native had originally projected for herself. After completing a two-year executive secretary program at Canadore College, she'd planned to pursue training in early childhood education.
But all of that changed when, after graduating from Canadore, she found summer work as an executive secretary to the vice president of news and operations at MCTV in Sudbury, Ont. She soon got the opportunity to produce as well, and by the time summer had turned to fall, she decided she'd found her niche.
After four years behind the scenes, she was offered her first opportunity to work on air, and with the mentorship of Allan Nursall, a meteorologist with Science North, she began doing the weather for the 6 o'clock news. She soon also began hosting her own live half-hour talk show in the mornings, and all the while continued to produce. Despite taxing 12-hour days, she says she'd never felt as good as when she was in front of the camera.
"None of the weather reporting was rehearsed -- it was all ad lib, which I think really shaped me. If someone asked me to stretch a segment for 10 minutes, it wasn't a problem. I felt very comfortable on camera," Hay says.
| Susan Hay
Seven years later, Hay's career took a major leap when she landed a job at the CBC doing on-location forecasts as well as entertainment stories for the 11 o'clock news.
A year and a half later, however, Global came calling with an invitation to anchor the 11 p.m. weather. The initial experience proved nerve-wracking; not only would she have to audition -- an anxiety-inducing experience for a "live girl" like Hay -- but she'd also for the first time have to work with a chroma key system, which meant standing against nothing more than a blue screen instead of working off a map.
She managed to get through the audition and was offered the 11 p.m. news, and after a couple of days became comfortable with the chroma key format. For 12 years, she kept up a pace that eventually also included the 5:30 p.m. news, and all of the planning that goes with it: spending a solid two hours gathering weather information from Environment Canada and inputting that info -- weather maps, daily temperatures and so on -- into a computer.
'Adrenaline is going'
But, Hay says, the challenge of providing the most up-to-date weather reports spikes when a major weather phenomenon hits.
"Those are the days your adrenaline is going, when you have hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, because it affects so many people," she says. "We cover 98% of the province, and we want to make sure we're giving the best information in a short period of time."
Today, as the noon-hour anchor, you'd think her workload might have lightened a bit; but instead she has found time do more, especially her charity work. Some highlights have been running two marathons in support of leukemia research (she also runs four times a week for at least an hour to stay fit and maintain balance in her life), and visiting southern Africa with World Vision in 2003, where she reported for Global on the ravaging effects of poverty and the growing number of children orphaned by AIDS.
"That trip was the best thing I ever did personally and in my career," says Hay, who began sponsoring a nine-year-old girl from Mozambique. "When we change the situation there, we change the world."
Having reached her 15th anniversary with Global, Hay still has many things on her agenda. Last Sunday, for the 11th year in a row, she hosted Toronto's 100th Annual Santa Claus Parade. Next year she'll resume hosting Resort TV, a weekly program showcasing Ontario resorts, spas and wineries. She would also like to return to Africa with World Vision one day, and run her third marathon for charity.
But what would really make the sun shine for Hay is to host her own live talk show covering the news and cultural trends of the day.
"I don't want to give up weather, I love it and people love me doing it," she says. "I have a really good time on the air, and I would love a show that incorporates everything I'm doing now and more."
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