By Cece Scott www.cecescott.com
“I love working, I love being involved. I am not ever going to stop. I will always be doing something, and I will always be doing it at 100 per cent.”
Christine Bentley is a renowned Canadian journalist who was a reporter and news anchor for 35 years on CTV. Bentley, 64, started at CTV in 1977 without an ounce of journalism training. “It was absolutely meant to be,” says Bentley, “Originally I wanted to go to drama school, which at the time my parents considered one level above being a stripper. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with an Honours BA. I even wrote my LSATS.”
The time was right
As life sometimes goes, serendipity and a healthy amount of destiny interceded. A friend of Bentley’s set up an interview for her at a small television station in Barrie. “I was given an audition, and when I came out I was told that I could start Monday at 9.a.m.”, says Bentley. “I was told that I spoke eloquently and looked great on camera.”
It certainly didn’t hurt that Bentley spoke four languages, including French, German, Spanish and English, as a result of her vagabond childhood spent travelling the world with her diplomat father. “When I started in television, it was the right time for women. We were a rarity and, to some degree, window dressing. Audiences were tired of seeing old white men. They wanted the people who they invited into their homes to be like them, part of their family. Women used to tell me that their husbands bragged that they went to bed with me when I anchored the 11 o’clock news.”
In 1984, Bentley became one of the first female anchors to get pregnant at CFTO News in Toronto, and she wanted to set a precedent for those women who would follow. “There was the belief in the industry that viewers couldn’t handle you being away for several months – the connection was that strong. There was a fear of breaking that connection, what it would do to the ratings,” says Bentley. “So I only took four weeks off.”
Survive and thrive
By the time Bentley left CTV in 2012, at the age of 60, she had reported on a broad spectrum of news beats, including city hall, municipal politics, mayoral elections and provincial politics at Queens Park. After a stint as the network’s weekend anchor, Bentley then spent many years as a co-host on Night Beat News before assuming CTV’s News at 6 with co-host Ken Shaw. And then, suddenly, without warning, Bentley was gone.
“There were a lot of things to adjust to throughout 2012 and a part of 2013,” says Bentley. “My father died, which was a huge psychological adjustment. For a few months our whole family was in shock. That summer I went to England to visit my sister who was undergoing treatment for a serious illness. Shortly after returning home I was let go by CTV. And to round things out, I slipped on some black ice at the beginning of 2013 and shattered my shoulder in nine pieces.”
It was a difficult period of time for Bentley, both physically and mentally – a time when she felt very close to the edge.“I knew I needed to make a choice and I did,” she says. “The choice was to survive and thrive. And that’s exactly what I did.”
A new lease on life
Bentley reunited with a few of her former colleagues, including Kate Wheeler and Sharon Caddy, and over a few bottles of Prosecco, the plan was hatched. “If we were not suitable for TV anymore, maybe we could try radio,” says Bentley.
The plan was to create a talk show that would empower, and inspire, women. In addition to profiling Canadians (especially women) from all walks of life, the creators also wanted the show to be a platform for people who champion worthy causes. ‘What She Said!’ was born. Skewed to women over the age of 35, the show also has a strong male listenership, appealing to those who are interested in hearing about what is going on with the women in their lives.
The show, co-hosted with Kate Wheeler, profiles a variety of content that includes news, lifestyle, entertainment and technology. What She Said! can be heard in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday evenings from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the Jewel Radio Network – 88.5.
Empty nest syndrome
Her difficult challenges aside, Bentley still maintains that one of the hardest transitions in her life, so far, was becoming an empty nester. Bentley’s twin 31-yearold boys, Jordan, a Grammy award-winner known as DJ Swivel, and Matt, a vice president in real estate development, both left home for their respective universities around the same time. “It was a crippling time for me. I love to be needed,” says Bentley.
As far as her sons were concerned they didn’t have a choice but to go away to university, because Bentley told them that if they didn’t attend post-secondary away from home, she wouldn’t pay their way. Bentley feels that university is about so much more than what is being taught in the classroom, and she wanted Jordan and Matt to have, and to savour, those life-altering experiences.
Now that the heavy lifting of child rearing, parent care and career actualization are behind her, Bentley decided it was time to try new things. “I actually believe that I am built for busy, and for stress, to some degree. The more I have on my plate the better I feel, the more I get done and the happier I am. My relationships with friends and family keep me centered, as does having a routine.”
Commitment to community
Bentley participates in a diverse continuum of charity and community work. She has been involved with Habitat for Humanity for close to eight years and is an ambassador for Habitat Women Build, which she says is a sisterhood of commandership. “Women are hugely collaborative. As we work on the build, on one side of us there could be a woman who is a millionaire, and on the other side, it could be the woman that the house is being built for. Nobody cares. It is important to share our resources, to share what we have, both in our own neighbourhoods as well as in the big picture. At the end of the day it can’t just be about me; we all need to get along with one another to survive. I am always most grateful.”
Other charities include being on the board of After Breast Cancer, an ambassador-at-large for the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, and she’s a supporter of the Canadian Cancer Society.
Speaking at seniors’ residences is very gratifying for Bentley. Her talks centre around living in the moment, getting out of old habits and not being afraid to try something new. She points out that it’s all about the art of ageing well. “I love beautiful stories like the 92-yearold who graduated, just because. Or the 82-year-old who got into serious weight lifting, just because,” says Bentley. “Instead of finding reasons why you shouldn’t do something, ask instead, why not? Life is all about mindset.”
Throughout her career, Bentley has received numerous rewards for broadcasting, as well as her charitable work, including Consumers’ Choice Awards, Canada ‘Woman of the Year’ (2009); the Rotary Club of Canada’s Paul Harris Fellowship Award for Community Service (2009); Olympic Torchbearer GTA Toronto (2010); Women of Baycrest Award (2011); Famous People Players of Toronto Daring to Dream Award (2012). Bentley also received a star on the Scarborough Walk of Fame in 2013. “Of all the awards that I have received, the greatest ones are those that recognize my work in the community and my philanthropy,” says Bentley.
In her limited downtime, Bentley loves to read and stays fit with power walking and aqua fit classes. Her one guilty pleasure is pure escapism, which includes watching all the Housewives series on TV. “I never intend to become old. Apart from having no wrinkles and being a bit slimmer, I don’t hugely miss my youth. I will most certainly age, but I don’t ever want to become the stereotypical old person that I saw in my head when I was 18. My idea of hell would be to have no one around and nothing to do,” says Bentley. “Even if I end up getting a gig serving soup at the halfway house, I will be productive, have purpose. I am blessed, and there is very little I can’t do.”