Amy Terrill on broadcast memories, never doing things by halves, and finding her inner author

Lunch with Roderick Benns: Conversations with interesting people in Kawartha Lakes

By Roderick Benns

Today, Amy Terrill is executive director of BGC Kawarthas. All photos, unless otherwise specified, by Sienna Frost.

As it turns out, Amy Terrill and I have a lot in common. We’re both 52. Most of our early years were spent in Kawartha Lakes. We were both involved in theatre early on. Each of us has been involved in journalism or communications in some way throughout much of our lives. We both drink tea. We both had political aspirations and yet are now 99 per cent sure we’d never run for office.

My first memory of Terrill is when we were students at Central Senior Public School in Lindsay. We were in a Valentine’s Day-themed play in the school gym, but she doesn’t remember it. (The only aspect of the play I remember is that she had to quickly smooch me on the cheek in one of the scenes, making her, technically, the first girl whoever kissed me.)

The Olympia is steady when we sit down at our prime window seat. There’s a warm fire to my back as we watch the cold wind hurry people along to their destinations.

“Theatre was a big part of my life from 10 years old to the end of high school,” says Terrill, after I bring up the Central play that we were in. An LCVI alumni, Terrill and I parted ways in school after Central when I attended Weldon.

Theatre wasn’t her only artistic talent. She sang in a choir during her first couple of years at Queens University. At one time, she even wanted to pursue music as a career.

Natalie, our server, takes our orders. It’s soup of the day for both of us with a side Caesar salad for Terrill and Olympia Greek for me.

Although she was born in Vancouver her parents were not long there and they settled down in Kawartha Lakes when she was two.

Amy Terrill during her CHEX TV days. File photo.

Locally, Terrill is likely best known for her role at CHEX Television, at least for those of a certain age. She says her career at CHEX, which started in her early 20s, was “amazing…it was an awesome place to work.”

But she went to university for political science – not broadcast journalism. “I was planning on going to college (after she completed her degree) for media, but I happened to meet Wally Macht, the news director and anchor, through a friend of my parents.”

Terrill and Macht chatted, and the CHEX TV veteran gave her some general advice on colleges that were respected as well as some insight into the industry. “He said give me a call when you’re done with your college program.”

But then Terrill started thinking that would be a long time to wait. “He’ll forget who I am,” she says, remembering her thinking back then.

“So I called him a few months later. I think he had forgotten who I was and just assumed I was coming from broadcasting college — and so over the phone he offered me an internship,” she said with a laugh.

She remembers coming to her first day of internship, with Macht showing her the equipment as if she’d know what it all was.

“I didn’t hide anything. I said I’ve never seen anything like this before but I’m a really fast learner. And then his mouth just dropped open.” She laughs again.

But she did learn fast. And within weeks she was doing small stories and never did have to go back to school for training or formal education in media.

After time as a junior reporter Terrill would soon co-anchor the 6 p.m. news with Mott. She also produced and anchored the 11 p.m. time slot. Later, she kickstarted CHEX’s 5:30 p.m. show and hosted it for about two years. In total, she was with the station for about nine years.

Many people in the region have fond memories of Terrill’s time at CHEX, her face beamed into living rooms each night. Many felt she was destined for larger networks but that was never seriously in the cards for her, by choice.

“I just felt like I had exhausted my opportunities at the station,” she says, as to why she left. And with young kids at the time (her two daughters, now 25 and 23) she just didn’t want to work in Toronto at another network and then have to commute.

(The irony of that thinking isn’t lost on her, she said, noting that later Toronto jobs would see her doing just that.)

But in the meantime, after leaving CHEX Terrill was hired as the general manager of the Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce. Never one to do things by halves (which she mentions at least twice), Terrill further immersed herself in the world of small business by taking a position with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce for four years, where she began a commute from her home north of Pontypool that she was trying to avoid earlier. When she left, she held the position of vice president of communications and marketing.

It was her opportunity at Music Canada that would see her continue in Toronto with a career that would last another nine years. For a young girl who seemed intent on pursuing music as a career at one time, it was interesting to Terrill to end up in the music industry on the business side in the position of executive vice president of the organization by the time she left.

“When you’re young and you love music, you think about coming to it as a performer if you’re thinking about a career. It’s always the performance side. But there are so many careers related to music behind the microphone,” she says, something that was brought home to her during her time with Music Canada, the trade association for the major Canadian record labels.

“It could be a lawyer specializing in entertainment law, or an accountant who specializes in helping musicians. There’s so many avenues to be around music, even if someone doesn’t have that secret sauce to be a successful solo artist,” she says.

Knowing Terrill was too modest to name drop, I encourage her to do so when she thought back to her time at Music Canada. I was certain that she must have met some big Canadian talent.

“I did have the opportunity to meet Anne Murray,” says Terrill, her face more animated. “When you and I first met in Grade 7, Anne Murray was my favourite artist back then. I aspired to be like her.”

For a moment I was sure I could glimpse the Snowbird songstress in Terrill’s face and hear the singer in the timbre of Terrill’s voice.

Turns out Terrill met Murray at the Junos one year “which was exciting.”

“I had a little conversation and played fan girl for a moment.”

Other singers she mentioned included Michael Bublé and country artist Brett Kissel.

“I didn’t brush shoulders with a lot of artists unless they were involved with advocacy. Like Brett Kissel – he’s fantastic,” she says about the country artist from Alberta. He helped Music Canada’s advocacy work by spending time in Ottawa, presenting to committees. Terrill tried to bring in artists, like him, to share their perspective to help advocate for the Canadian music industry. Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo fame was one of Music Canada’s earliest advocates, she says.

Terrill says her best experience in the job overall was leading the concept and development of “music cities.” Essentially, it was work that helped show municipalities how they could create an environment where music thrives and how that impacts other things, like economic development. She had a chance to travel internationally and speak to people in other cities to see what they were doing. “It was groundbreaking. Others are doing it now and carrying it on in different countries around the world, including Canada.”

When she left Music Canada four years ago, Terrill said she was relieved to give up the commute and have a better work-life balance.

She took on the role of executive director of the local boys and girls club, which rebranded just under two years ago to BGC Kawarthas.

BGC offers young people a laundry list of programs, too many to mention here, but that cover everything from cooking skills to literacy to leadership development and that barely scratches the surface. Not to mention the club provides a safe space for students to hang out.

While Terrill has already been in her “new” position for four years, she has often been asked if she will pursue a political path.

“I have thought about it,” she says. “But it’s not in the cards right now. And I don’t think it’s going to be part of my journey.”

She says the older she gets the less she believes she will do it.

At one time Terrill thought she might be interested in provincial politics, although now she is quite happy not to be working in Toronto. While with Music Canada, she did a lot of advocacy work with the province and ended up being a close observer of politics, including watching politicians’ behaviour in the legislature. She didn’t like what she saw.

“I am not a fan of the partisanship.”

Then why not mayor? There are no political parties in municipal politics.

“It’s a huge amount of responsibility. In my view, you have to be very knowledgeable about a lot of aspects of municipal affairs to run. And my personality means that I would need to dive in fully,” she says.

Terrill says that immersion is fully focused on BGC, so it’s hard for her to consider anything else.

If anything is catching her eye and her attention outside of BGC these days, it’s the written word; Terrill has started writing a book.

:It’s historical fiction, and it’s really exciting. If I look beyond BGC, maybe I’ll be a writer — that’s where my passion is at the moment.”

The inspiration is a family history written by her great Aunt Frankie which was published when Terrill was about 18 or 19.

“My book tells the story of a (First World War) suffragist who is trying to figure out how far her colleagues will go to obtain the vote, unearthed by her present-day great niece who’s wrestling with her own political ambitions.”

(There’s more than a little of that description that seems autobiographical.)

The working title is No Secrets Among Sisters. She’s hired an editor and is serious about finding a publisher. She doesn’t see this as a passion project only – she’s looking for readers when it’s all done.

Terrill’s excitement for this written work is palpable – just one more thing we seem to have in common. As she leaves the Olympia, out into the cold wind, it occurs to me we may never see MPP Amy Terrill or Mayor Amy Terrill. But public service’s loss may be literature’s gain.

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