Meet Later Mom: Shelley Ross

NAME: Shelley Ross
RESIDENCE: New Canaan, CT and NYC, NY
CHILDREN: Benjamin Simone 35; Kimberley Simone 33

Shelley Ross is an author, producer, network news executive producer (ABC Good Morning America, PrimeTime Live, CBS The Early Show). Entertainment producer/director of concert specials. Media consultant. President of The Cure Alliance.

What was your road to parenthood like? I met my future husband when his children were five and seven. I really liked him, but really fell in love when I watched him for the first time serving his children SpaghettiOs. It wasn’t much of a lunch, but he was such a sweet and loving father I thought, “how lucky.” As our relationship grew, the children would soon travel back and forth, spending Christmas, spring break and summer vacations with us. They were so young, and it was difficult for them. I read every book on how to ease the transition. Most were rubbish, but if I could get one piece of advice per book, I considered it a success. The best advice was how to help children if they feel guilty about liking you: always take them out and let them pick out a small gift to take home to their mom. It was a most wonderful idea and experience to share. The children also influenced me to want to be married. I had a grown into a much more important person in their lives than “Daddy’s girlfriend.”

shelleyrossformalYou have had success in many entertainment arenas. Is there one project in your career thus far that you are most proud of, and why? I’m proud of many projects, and I’d have to say two stand out: one in news, one in entertainment. I was the executive producer of Good Morning America on 9/11 and in the control room with Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson live on the air when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. As challenging as the situation was, having to report as New York and the nation was under attack, I was equally proud we could prevent false reports from airing. Our skilled anchors, along with Peter Jennings, helped calm a frightened nation. And it was important to lead in the newsroom as so many of our staffers had grown up in New York and knew people who were killed in the attacks. One of our GMA audio engineers was married to the sommelier who perished in Windows On the World. Our young production assistants were screening footage for days so we wouldn’t show people jumping off buildings. We offered and encouraged counseling for everyone. For our efforts during 9/11, ABC News was awarded the highest honor in broadcast journalism, Peabody Award.

The most rewarding project in entertainment, hands down, has to be ThePianoGuys, four incredibly talented guys from Utah whose music videos I stumbled upon while surfing online one day. I immediately ran downstairs to show my husband and suggested we jump on a plane to meet them and help guide them to bigger careers. They were so fresh and original, I believed the sky was the limit. My husband let cooler heads prevail and set up a meeting with them. They didn’t want to be rich or famous, it turned out they made videos to sell pianos online for the store called The Piano Guys. Ultimately, they did agree to work with us. I produced and directed a PBS concert special with them, The Piano Guys: Live from Red Butte; my husband and his business partner manage them as they tour the world, released five CDs on Sony Masterwork’s and have grown their youtube channel to over 4 million subscribers with more than 3/4 of a billion views. The best part: The Piano Guys are four wonderful dads with 16 children. They’re all honorable loving husbands and fathers, great role models and they touch people in meaningful way. Plus, they’re big fun to work with.

Your current endeavor is THE CURE ALLIANCE. Can you tell us about it and what led to your role? The Cure Alliance is a non-profit organization of over 200 elite scientists and researchers from 20 countries, plus those who support their efforts to cure chronic, debilitating and fatal diseases and accelerate the path from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside.A few years ago I met its founder the legendary Dr. Camillo Ricordi who runs the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami. (He best known for inventing the technology that became the gold standard for extracting islet cells from the pancreas for research and transplantation.) Back then, he explained to me the many reasons why we don’t cure diseases in the 21st Century, and there were many barriers, all underreported. I offered to help The Cure Alliance craft their message and an awareness campaign. Ironically a couple of years later, I had complications due to cancer surgery. The cancer was gone, but the surgery was disabling. My surgeons here told me there was nothing more they could do to help, but it turned out one of The Cure Alliance members in Milan had a new treatment. In a few months, pain was gone, my health was fully restored, and I was ready to advocate in a more significant role. I became the group’s president, establishing a web and facebook presence, writing editorials for our medical journal CellR4, and traveling to Washington, D.C. to support the 21st Century Cures Bill.

How does being a mom influence your work? What do your children think of all that you do? I want my children to age better than my generation and not suffer from the chronic, debilitating or fatal diseases most of us will get. The grass roots campaign is growing. The House has passed the 21st Century Cures Bill which addresses funding, regulations and many of the barriers to cures. A similar bill is in the Senate. Twenty-four states have passed a “right to try” law which gives people access to certain experimental drugs instead of having to wait years for FDA approval. While they are supportive, my young adult children are still too young to think about aging and how their generation really doesn’t have to suffer from cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other awful diseases. When they become parents, it will change.

Do you think it’s tough for women to balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits? And, if so, how do you achieve balance? There is no balance for women. All the working mothers I know feel perpetually guilty and torn in every direction.

What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over?  I officially became a stepmother at age 37. It was all positive for me. I had spent the years before building my career, and the children came into my life just as I was enjoying the acceptance as a professional at the highest level. The rounding out of my life was wonderful, and the holiday season was never more rewarding, creating new family traditions together that still prevail after 25 years. Challenges are less, you are wiser, calmer and have presumably mastered your decibel levels and communication skills by then.

What do you most want to teach your children? What have you learned from them? The lessons have already been taught to them for living a purposeful life. I have learned my emotions have even greater depth than I imagined. I also learned I am not a stepmother, but a “bonus parent.”

What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? Just do it. All my friends who wanted to become mothers did. It’s not about wisdom, it’s about basic primal emotion of love.

Do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your son or other parents? I had a very strict and controlling father. I couldn’t wait to be a different kind of parent. This does not mean I don’t believe in boundaries. I have a cousin by marriage who taught me early on that children are never annoying, they’re just learning by testing boundaries all day long. When you’re a stepmother, sometimes it’s as easy as asking: “Do you think Mommy would say ‘yes?’ ” Especially if you’re all on the same page, you’ll be okay.

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