Dudley Steps Away From Mic
Lebanon Mainstay Has Always Been Happy to Focus on Community
Radio host Terri Dudley jokes with Mascoma Savings Bank President Stephen Christy during a break in the last taping of Sunday Mornings with Terri Dudley on WTSL-AM in West Lebanon yesterday afternoon. Dudley is retiring after 50 years in the public eye. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Great Eastern Radio Marketing Manager Nichole Romano thanks Terri Dudley after Dudley taped the last episode of Sunday Mornings With Terri Dudley. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Terri Dudley speaks of her earlier days as a newspaper reporter during her last radio show. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
West Lebanon — As Terri Dudley was preparing to record her final radio interview yesterday, the tables were turned and Dudley found herself answering questions rather than asking them.
“What are we going to talk about today?” asked Stephen Christy, president and CEO of Mascoma Savings Bank and frequent guest on Dudley’s Sunday morning talk show , before the two went on-air . “Let’s talk about you. I think we ought to talk about Terri.”
Dudley greeted the suggestion with a laugh and countered, “Everybody says that, but I say no.”
A focus on the lives and stories of other people, as opposed to her own, is typical Dudley, but it belies the fact that the 84-year-old Lebanon native has become an icon of the city .
Now, after more than 50 years in the public eye, Dudley is ending her radio show to focus on caring for her husband of 66 years, Roger Dudley.
Dudley’s involvement in the Upper Valley developed out of a career in newspapers and radio, which led her into the advertising field , but Dudley’s deep connection to her community extends well beyond her professional life.
She served in city government for nearly three decades and three consecutive terms in the Statehouse, and from 1976 to 1994, she was chairwoman of Lebanon’s court diversion program for juvenile defendants.
Longtime friend Nancy Merrill laughed when she recalled Dudley’s demeanor when she worked with the troubled youths, which she said wasn’t any different from how she treated anyone else.
“A teenager would come in having made a mistake, and the parents would be called, and there was Terri saying, ‘Oh, you have such a lovely child,’ ” said Merrill. “Right at that moment when (the parents) want to scream.”
Merrill’s sentiments were echoed by Paul Boucher, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
“If she’s talking to you, she’s talking to you,” said Boucher, a friend of Dudley’s for 35 years. “She’s not looking elsewhere. You’re the only one that’s important.”
Nichole Romano, general manager of Great Eastern Radio where Dudley hosted her talk show for the past 18 years, described Dudley as a mentor who encouraged her to charge ahead in the radio business, which Romano said “was always the boys’ club.
“She basically guided me and said, ‘Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something,’ ” said Romano yesterday. “She was always one that pushed, constantly pushed me.”
Dudley was the first woman advertising executive at a daily newspaper in New England and the first woman to head the New England Newspaper Advertising Executives organization, but she said that she never felt like she was a trailblazer.
“That never occurred to me,” said Dudley, who added that she always felt like an equal among her male colleagues in both the reporting and advertising functions of the media business.
As a reporter, Dudley was no stranger to controversy. In the late 1950s, Dudley showed up with another Valley News reporter to copy some tax assessment records at what was then the town hall, just days before Lebanon’s referendum on whether to switch from a town to a city. Dudley and her colleague were thrown out of town hall by Joe Perley, a powerful selectman, but the incident and the stories about tax assessment that were eventually published are credited with helping to swing the vote in favor of a city form of government, which was seen as more transparent.
Dudley, herself, would become better known for finding common ground in City Hall, where she served for a decade on the Planning Board in the 1980s, and nearly two decades off-and-on as a city councilor, beginning in 1990 and retiring in 2009. A bridge on Route 4 that essentially links the east and west sides of the city is named in her honor, an acknowledgement of her role in bridging community divides over the years.
Dudley said she appreciated that partisan politics rarely reared its head on the City Council, and she brought that appreciation with her when she served as a Republican lawmaker in Concord.
“Regardless of the party you belong to, you’re elected by the people,” said Dudley. “They’re not all Republicans, they’re not all Democrats. When you represent someone, you’re supposed to represent everyone.”
Dudley’s public service began in 1958, when she was elected as a city clerk in the city’s first ward.
“If I had been paid for every job that I had in my lifetime, I could have been a millionaire instead of a pauper,” said Dudley with a laugh during the recording of her radio broadcast yesterday. (The show can be heard Sunday morning on WTSL-AM from 8-10.)
The litany of accomplishments has left some of Dudley’s good friends wondering what’s next.
“I’m looking to see what Terri’s next project is,” said Merrill, who has known Dudley for more than three decades. “She’s done a lot for a lot of people, and I expect her to continue to do things for the community.”
While acknowledging her hometown bias, Dudley said that she has never met more caring people than her Upper Valley neighbors.
“If someone is down on their luck, if they are injured, if their home burns down — whatever. There are people there to immediately help,” said Dudley. “People are always there, I found that over my life that there’s always someone there to help and to catch you and help you rise again, and it means so much to live in a community like this.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.