Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

FOX News Channel

Melissa Francis’ Journey from the Prairie to Fox


Melissa Francis’ brave memoir, Dairy of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, laid bare her childhood years when she was appearing on the popular family drama, Little House on the Prairie, while dealing with a controlling and, at times, abusive mother. (See our interview.) Melissa’s book resonated with readers, many of whom remembered the series, the brainchild of Michael Landon, who not only directed the episodes, but also played the family patriarch, Charles Ingalls. Others saw in her revelations inspiration to confront and deal with their own personal demons.

Now, in Lessons from the Prairie, Melissa goes back to those early days on the set where, at a very young age, she profited from Landon’s no-nonsense approach to work, an attitude that continues to guide her today. Melissa made the decision to quit acting and left California to attend Harvard where she studied economics. Determined to craft a career in TV news, she made her own opportunities, hopping from one TV affiliate to another until she finally landed a prestigious anchor role, first at CNBC and then at the Fox Business Network.

In Boston, she met her husband, Wray, but starting a family came with enormous challenges. Diagnosed with a hereditary condition known as Factor V Leiden, Melissa nearly died each time she gave birth to her two sons, Thompson and Greyson. After being told another pregnancy might kill her, Melissa and Wray made the decision to have another child, their daughter, Gemma, via surrogacy.

Despite her enormous success, Melissa keeps everything in perspective. She can laugh at herself, sharing stories about not being recognized at her children’s school without her TV hair and makeup. She also admonishes those who pressure women to “lean in,” in order to be successful. “Don’t lean in. In fact, sit down and take a load off.”

Megyn Kelly, who recently left Fox for NBC, is one of Melissa’s friends, but perhaps because of the lessons learned long ago from Landon, the TV actress turned anchor comes across as someone we all would like to have as a friend. Here, Melissa answers questions from Charlene Giannetti about her career, family life, and her new book.

What was the reaction to your previous book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter? Can you break it down in terms of family, friends, co-workers, and fans?
I was so touched by the outpouring of support by email, letter, tweet, you name it! I really put myself out there. I laid my soul bare and that was a huge risk. The reward though was truly overwhelming. Friends, co-workers, and fans of the show were all so supportive and empathetic, sharing their stories with me as well. The experience taught me a great lesson about sharing my whole, honest self. Not only did I feel accepted rather than rejected, I also connected with so many people who had overcome their own challenges. Open up. It’s worth it!


What was left unsaid in that book that prompted you to write this one?
I tried to spend the majority of this book making fun of myself and making the reader laugh out loud at all the times I’ve taken a pie to the face and then licked the whipped cream off for dessert. Through all those hilariously humiliating stumbles, I’ve come up with the Foolproof Four Step Plan to Turn Disaster into Golden Opportunity. I’m not kidding. It works every time! And while I’m at it, I also want to tear down the icons of fake perfection in social media and culture at large and demonstrate for everyone I’m not close to perfect and neither is anyone else! So don’t beat yourself up if your thighs are fat or your hair is frizzy or your kids are too loud! Because while you’re leaning in and berating yourself for not being Fortune 500 CEO, you might be missing the joy that’s right in front of you in your current life! I really believe this.

So much of your first book centered on your mother yet she’s only mentioned in passing in this one and in some instances portrayed in a positive light. Why the change?
In the first book, I told my whole story and left it where it was. That was largely the point. To unload my baggage and then leave it at the curb for pick up. I’ve had therapy about it, I wrote a whole book about it, I’m done with it! Now I’ve moved on to trying to parent my own herd of children, which occupies most of my mindshare when I’m not at work. I don’t have time for much else!

You were only eight when you landed the Little House role, yet your stories about the show and Michael Landon in particular are very detailed. Why are your memories do vivid?
Good question! I remember scenes from childhood vividly like they are right in front of me. For example, when I described what it looked like to stare out from inside my crib as a baby, my dad didn’t really believe me because you aren’t supposed to remember that, except my description is dead on. So I asked my therapist if this is really possible or am I kidding myself? I know there are doubters out there. He said I have a visual memory which isn’t very common but is very real, and very specific. I remember what things looked like at exactly moments in time and I’m also great at visualizing patterns rather than details… for example I can punch in an ATM code or a phone number based on the pattern but I couldn’t tell you necessarily what the numbers are, so if you moved the buttons I’d be lost. I know that’s more than you wanted to know, but that’s the deal.

The good girl/bad girl interaction between your character and Nancy, the adopted daughter of the Oleson’s played by Allison Balson, sounded intense. How did the two of you relate off the set? Looking back, do you see that relationship placed bullying front and center within a TV show? Landon’s instincts?
Off the set we were friends, which was probably bad for our acting. We should have gone more method. Bullying wasn’t a trigger word like it is now, they just needed drama on the show and besides the elements which were always threatening Walnut Grove, this was another way to go. The Nancy character was written in such a vicious way though, I’m shocked by the actions she took even now.

Balson is now a singer and Jason Bateman, of course, a very busy actor. Do you keep in touch with either of them? If so, do you ever trade stories about those days?
No!  I wish! Melissa Gilbert [who played the Laura Ingalls Wilder] was wonderful when my last book came out and we’ve been in touch. She’s a very generous person. Alison Arngrim [who played Nellie Oleson] as well. They were both so supportive of the first book. I was really touched.

Balson went to Princeton; you to Harvard. And the other child actors on the show have all led remarkably successful lives. You talk about Landon’s influence. What can parents do to find Landons for their own children, mentors and adult role models who can have a positive impact on a young person’s life?
Melissa Gilbert and I talked about the fact that none of our co-stars ended up in jail or rehab, and we both had identical memories of the way Michael ran the set, concluding his approach held the key. He was such a workhorse – the first great Hollywood entrepreneur in my mind. He made a mint in his own cottage industry, writing, producing, directing, and starring in the show. He watched every dime that came in and every one that went out. He ran the production like well oiled, highly efficient machine. He wasn’t a diva and didn’t suffer any divas either. He led by example and we all followed suit. But he was also a beaming ray of sunshine, a positive force of energy, and when you worked hard and did a good job he shown his bright light in your direction, inspiring you to do more. He wasn’t abusive, wasteful, or ungrateful. He expected us to work like adults since we made adult paychecks, but he always took a moment to make us laugh until we cried. His approach was so effective and infectious, it had a huge impact on the way I look at work, take pride in a job well done, and strive to always be a part of a happy, productive team.


Melissa with her co-anchor Davis Asman on “After The Bell” on Fox Business

You made it clear that many people are responsible for how you look on Fox once the cameras are running. Why did you feel it was so important to stress that fact?
Because women beat themselves up for their physical faults (and so do men, actually). We all do. I would hate for anyone to think my hair cooperates on its own. It doesn’t. And my skin is usually bright red. I want to thwack Giselle [Büchen] with the brush she supposedly doesn’t need. Women don’t need pressure to look perfect.

You mention your friendship with Megyn Kelly in the book. She was one of many women at Fox who complained about being sexually harassed by Roger Ailes. Did you ever talk with her about her experience with Ailes? Did you ever feel the atmosphere at Fox was hostile to women?
I did talk to her, but I’ll leave it at that. I can only talk about my own experience, and I guess the best way to describe it is that I was so wrapped in myself, my day, my worries, my kids, my errands, my to do list, you name it… that I wasn’t aware of what was going on around me. In retrospect, yes, all the signs were there. But initially I was as shocked as anyone.

Your descriptions of your child-bearing experiences were harrowing. Was it painful to relive those moments? How do you think your children will react years from now reading these sections of the book?
Thompson tried to read it and the description was too much for him. He’s not ready. When they are ready I will talk to all of them about it. There’s quite the happy ending, and all’s well that ends well.

Parental leave is a big topic now in our nation. What will it take for the U.S. to catch up to other nations in this area that is so important for families?
I’m a small government person. I don’t like people in Washington dictating anything. They seem to barely be capable of making decisions for themselves, much less for my family. So I reject the premise of this question. Companies should create the policies that result in the best outcome for the workers they want to attract.

I found myself wanting to read more about your experiences in TV news. Any plans for another book where you could flesh out those stories?
Amen sister! My editor thought I went heavy on the news stories, so emphasis is in the eye of beholder I guess!! I will write much more.  Next up for me though is a TV pilot.

Top photo credit: Heidi Green
Top photo: Wray, Greyson, Melissa, Gemma, and Thompson
All photos courtesy of Melissa Francis

Lessons from the Prairie
Melissa Francis

FB: @MelissaFrancisFox
Twitter: @MelissaAFrancis
Instagram: @MelissaAFrancis

My Career Choice: Mary-Claire Burick – Rosslyn Business Improvement District


Rosslyn is the largest urban market in the heart of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. As president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, Mary-Claire Burick oversees an annual budget of $4 million and is charged with improving the area for the neighborhood’s businesses, residents, and visitors.

Early in her career, Mary-Claire was heavily involved in media operations and played an integral role in launching the Fox News Channel. After forming her own successful strategic communications and change management advisory firm, MC Strategies, she was recruited to her current position.

At the BID, Mary-Claire leads her team in creating a welcoming, distinct, and thriving environment for residents, retailers and workers in the Rosslyn neighborhood in Northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital. Her purview includes urban design and placemaking, the multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. She also works to organize community events, support the arts, and interface with county decision makers.

Through her work in Rosslyn, whose towers make up D.C.’s most prominent skyline, Mary-Claire has been transforming the neighborhood from a commercial district to a mixed-use urban center and, according to Redfin, the nation’s second-best zip code for educated millennials.

Mary-Claire is the co-creator of the Women in Technology (WIT) Leadership Foundary program to increase the number of women in the D.C. area who serve on corporate boards. She was named one of  the “Women Who Mean Business” by the Washington Business Journal.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I was actually recruited into my current role based on my past experience in strategic management, communications and engagement. Not having come from this field, I asked the recruiter why they were considering me for the position, and the response was what ultimately drove me to accept. The recruiter explained that the BID needed a leader who could help set a vision for the future, get people excited and engaged in helping to realize that vision and manage the change along the way. Bringing people together to reach a shared goal has been the connecting thread of my career so I was eager to take on this new role at the BID.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
This career was an opportunity to bring all my passions and past experiences into one role on a larger, community-based scale.

I really enjoy bringing the right people together, and ensuring they have what they need to reach a shared goal. There is such a diverse group of stakeholders within the Rosslyn community and many have strong, and at times differing, opinions. Although it can be challenging at times, it makes my job more interesting.

Every day this job brings new challenges and a seemingly endless range of obstacles that may initially prevent a task from being accomplished, but that’s what I love about it: I must work with and through others to achieve goals, which is something I enjoy. It really keeps me on my toes since there’s always another challenge to overcome, but the rewards when I help affect progress make it all worthwhile.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
Through my prior work with my management consulting company, MC Strategy, I had the privilege of working with a wide range of companies including government agencies and non-profit organizations of all sizes and industries. I worked hand in hand with seasoned leaders and saw firsthand the business success that could be created when you pay attention to efficient communication, building high-performing teams and effectively leading change.

I am fortunate to have a strong network of board members, colleagues and friends who I have turned to in learning more about commercial real estate, economic development and placemaking. And I’m a life-long learner, so I keep myself fresh in organizational effectiveness techniques that I initially learned through my certificate in Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership from Georgetown University a few years ago. I can’t stress enough the importance of admitting what you don’t know and taking the steps to change that.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I have been really lucky. I have always found people who were willing to be supportive of me. I would not have been able to come up to speed in this industry, which I knew little about before entering it, without my network and the BID board. They have been rooting for me, connecting me with the right people, and respectfully making any needed course corrections. So I’d tell others, it’s so important to surround yourself with positive and knowledgeable people who are willing to help. Make sure you are open to those suggestions, and then pay that forward by acting the same with others when you can.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Of course! If anyone ever tells you otherwise, they’re probably lying. For the first six months at the BID, I definitely experienced a honeymoon phase. I was so busy getting up to speed, meeting hundreds of key stakeholders, and putting in place a foundation for the future. Then the reality hit me: There’s so much about this industry that I don’t know, there are many people relying on me and there’s a lot at stake. I absolutely had my doubts, and often wondered if I was the right person for the job.

But in order to be successful, whether it is at one’s profession, hobby, or life itself, you have to be able to take risks. You have to be able to put your head down and keep going when you are in an unfamiliar place. Any risk worth taking is going to naturally put you out of your comfort zone, but that’s also when you learn the most about yourself. So yes, I definitely had doubts, but I believe that’s normal. Any risk or career choice that has the potential to be an incredible learning experience and that could possibly sky-rocket your career is going to be scary.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that my career has reached a “tipping point” so to speak, but it was incredibly satisfying and rewarding when I realized that I was doing work that had a tangible impact on a large community of people.

After being at the BID for almost three years, I am just starting to see some of my initial efforts paying off. Obviously I’ve had victories and successes here and there, but a vast majority of the work of a BID requires years of planning, and sustained effort before it comes to fruition.

Just recently, we unveiled the first installment of our Streetscape Elements Master Plan. It started two years ago as an idea to make the sidewalks safer, more pedestrian-friendly and more beautiful. From solar-powered trash compactors to bike racks, parklets and benches, our custom streetscape elements make the streets of Rosslyn more inviting and reflective of our urban, contemporary identity. So well worth the effort!

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I think one of the greatest challenges I’ve had to overcome throughout my career has been self-doubt. I’ve followed my passion and been very willing to take risks to go into unfamiliar territory. Each time, there was worry and wondering if I’d made a mistake. And each time, instead of allowing thoughts like, “Can I really do this?” derail my career, I decided to take the time to learn and research what I didn’t know. Each time it was a slog, but making that extra effort to learn something new and then applying it turned the quicksand of self-doubt into a successful career that I enjoy immensely.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I have found that knowing how to engage with people and bring out the best in others is one of the most useful skills I’ve ever developed. They key is to truly listen to others and try to understand where they’re coming from and what they need. You also need to talk about what you want and need and then try to find common ground.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am definitely proud that I helped launch the Fox News Channel. It was nerve-racking because I left a secure job to help with what was then a start-up, and it was my first time as a manager.

That experience allowed such rich learning, as I had to build organizational processes and structures from scratch. I took it upon myself to help implement efficient and practical procedures that everyone could agree on, and then make sure I was developing and training employees. And that became the basis for a core strength, and passion of mine: organizational effectiveness and employee engagement.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
For someone to be able to enter the economic development and community-building fields, it is imperative to have the ability to multi-task and remain flexible. You have to have the ability to get things done quickly and effectively, but also have the patience and perseverance to allow projects to develop over time through multiple approval levels. And you really ought to love dealing with and working with others. It’s a must in this field!

Connect with Mary-Claire on Twitter @MaryClaireBuric and with the Rosslyn BID @rosslynva.