RTÉ star Mary Kennedy never told anybody when she first applied for a job with the national broadcaster as she feared they would say “Who does she think she is?”
The former Nationwide presenter, who worked full-time as a secondary school teacher before joining RTÉ, said her late mother was also “nervous” she would get notions.
In 2019, she left her job due to the company’s mandatory policy of retiring at 65.
“I didn’t choose to retire,” she said.
Reflecting on her career while speaking at the Kennedy Summer School in Co Wexford this afternoon, the veteran broadcaster said she is enjoying getting to spend more time with her family.
“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say ‘oh, I wish I had more time to see my grandchildren’.
“Gay Byrne used to say that the graveyard is full of people who thought they were indispensable and I don’t want that.
“I’m 68 now. I think there are stages in life for everything. There is a stage where you build your career, a stage where you rear your family, a stage for yourself and this is the stage where I want to have a bit of stimulation with work but I want to have the freedom to spend time with my children, grandchildren, dear friends and be able to travel.”
When she first started with RTÉ, she worked as a part-time continuity announcer. It wasn’t until 2004 that she became full-time after landing the Nationwide gig.
Throughout her decades-long career, she also presented the Eurovision song contest in 1995, her own chat show Kennedy, and GAA programme ‘Up for the Match’.
She applied for a job with RTÉ the year after her father died from a heart attack while at a golf outing with work. He was only 59.
“I told nobody as people would be saying ‘Who does she think she is applying for a job in RTÉ?’ That’s the way it was with young girls and women in those days.
“The nuns always had a saying: ‘Don’t ever get above your station’. Thankfully those kinds of things have changed and young women are much more outgoing and should be encouraged to be self-confident and self-aware.
“My mother was always nervous about what I was doing in RTÉ... she was worried I’d get notions. My father would have been proud as punch.”
Ms Kennedy grew up in Clondalkin, Dublin and worked as a freelancer while trying to raise her four children.
She said her mother was incredibly supportive throughout her career, always helping to mind her children.
“She was old fashioned. She worked in the civil service and had to leave her job when she got married as there was a marriage bar at the time. She was of the opinion that if you got married and had children, your place was at home minding them.
“That wasn’t going to be me,” she added.
She also spoke about how she was rejected for the role of presenting Eurovision a number of times before she was approached by the director to do it in 1995.
The day of the contest, a newspaper ran a cartoon of her falling head over heels down the silk-covered stairs she had to walk down in front of hundreds of millions of people.
Her colleagues tried to keep the newspaper from her, but she eventually saw it.
“That’s all I could initially think about then,” she said.
“But instead I thought about all the people I knew in the different countries who would be watching and how they would be wishing me well.”
Soon after leaving RTÉ, she was a contestant on Dancing With the Stars in 2020, making it into the last six before being eliminated in a dance-off with Grainne Gallanagh.
While she is continuing with some TV work and writing, she said her plan now is to “enjoy life”.
“I’m a firm believer that life has its different stages and this is my stage. I’m conscious that I’ve lived a lot more of my life than I’ve left to live and I want to enjoy it.”