Photography by Deb Wonch

by Shannon Santschi

Photography by Deb Wonch and Michelle Sharbono

For this article, we sit down with Carolyn Holly, a name and face familiar to our audience. Carolyn writes a regular column for this magazine, but most notably, has been the emcee of Smart Women Smart Money conferences since its inception. Others will also recognize Ms. Holly as the long-time anchor of KTVB News in Boise, Idaho. Go anywhere in Idaho, and you will find that Carolyn Holly’s name is a golden “YES” ticket to just about anywhere you’d want to be. She is loved by audiences and respected by her peers.

Although she took early retirement in 2016 after 33 years at KTVB Channel 7, in 2019, the station invited her to be their permanent fill-in anchor—something Carolyn says is practically unheard of in her field. She’s whole-heartedly embraced this opportunity as the perfect balance to “filling her soul” with what she loves–communicating and spending time with her 17 grandchildren. Idahoans have welcomed back her appearances with open arms.

Anyone who has the opportunity to watch this award-winning journalist and news anchor up close comes away with an appreciation for the talent and skills she’s honed over her career. Her ability to energize her audience, synthesize written, verbal and non-verbal cues coming from various directions, give clear yet gracious instruction to those present, all the while staying mindful of what’s up next, reveals her diligence and dedication to her craft. And even on a day that demanded the aforementioned intensity for a rehearsal that began at 5 a.m., Carolyn is still upbeat, focused, and warm at 2 p.m. No sweat.

Our conversation begins with us cozied up on the studio sofa drinking hot chocolate.  I begin by asking Carolyn about the influences that shaped her personality and outlook on life.

“My greatest mentor was my mother,” she says. “My mother saw the world through rose-colored glasses; everyone was wonderful. She loved people. She was very interested in people.” Among the many things, Carolyn learned from her mother was that “when you walk into a room, you don’t make it about you. You walk in, you go right over to them, and make it about them.” She says this gently but seriously. “We never boasted about our own accomplishments, but we sure as heck picked up the phone and told others how wonderful it was that they got an award or that their son pitched well in a game…my role model was to be humble…I enjoy lifting people up. I think that lifting others up makes a better world.”

Carolyn’s father was also very influential in her life. She describes him as “one of the most ethical men that I will ever be around. I learned [from him] to respect a commitment I made, a handshake.” Her dad also taught her time management—a valuable skill for working in an industry where time is scheduled down to the second.

Raised in a family of performers–she and her sisters sang in the church choir, her brother was a great athlete, and her mother was a stage actress up to age 88–Carolyn grew up feeling very much at home in front of an audience.  In high school, she was involved in dancing, dramas, and choir. So when the local TV anchor spoke at her school about some of the great natural skills of a broadcast journalist, Carolyn knew immediately that she fit the bill—she enjoyed storytelling, acting and was more than comfortable speaking in front of others.

After high school, Carolyn attended Oregon State University and began working part-time as a journalist the day before she graduated. One year later, in 1982, she joined KTVB Channel 7 News as a weekend and morning anchor and never looked back. In 1990 she became the station’s evening news anchor and helped lead Channel 7 to become the leading television news station in Idaho. 

As a journalist and anchorwoman, Carolyn has traveled internationally, kayaked in the ocean, zip-lined, and eaten strange foods. She also had the thrill and honor of working alongside journalists from all over the world when she covered the Olympics in Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver, British Columbia (2010).

But Carolyn will tell you that the highlights of her career are the people she’s met along the way, the people who trusted her to tell their stories. “You can’t tell someone’s story and not be affected by it,” she says.

One woman’s story ignited a life-long passion and advocacy for women’s health in Carolyn early on. “My son was playing flag football,” she recalls, “and there was a beautiful mother running up and down the sidelines. I noticed how encouraging she was to everybody. She was just full of energy.” The woman later asked Carolyn if she could share her story. Carolyn learned that the woman was in the midst of her second fight with breast cancer and was undergoing some experimental clinical trials to help advance treatments for the disease. Carolyn documented the woman’s journey for over a year. “She became a dear friend. We traveled together and went on a cruise with our husbands…I think of her all the time…and I am still really close with her family,” she says behind a slightly teary smile.  

Choosing to Live a Good Life

We continue the conversation by talking about something many people notice about Carolyn—her energy! When I ask her how she has maintained her zest for life, she enthusiastically responds, “I don’t want to live any other way! As we get older, our bodies change, our minds change, our worries change…I think every day that you wake up, you have a choice to make. I choose to live a good life…for me and for others. In her downtime, she enjoys working alongside her husband, Dave, at their horse ranch in Montana. “Even though I don’t ride, I love working the land,” she says. 

“I walk every morning, and I do pray every morning during my walks. It’s a very special time for me. I get to start my day the way I want to live my life: I want to be productive, I want to be good to people.”

Retirement, or “returnment” as Carolyn calls it, is part of living a good life. “If you love what you did [professionally], you are never gone.” “Returnment,” she says, is “a time to return all the good, all the wisdom, all the opportunities that others gave to you, to those who will follow in your steps.” Although Carolyn is not in returnment yet, she is already busy ‘returning the good’ through her consulting and non-profit work.  As Vice President of Development for the Idaho Business for Education, Carolyn plays an active role in supporting the development of a skilled workforce by making connections between business leaders across the state. Helping others build long-term relationships is at the heart of what she does. She emphasizes the following as key for anyone wanting to establish successful, sustainable relationships:

1. Do what you say you’re going to do.

2. Fully listen in a conversation. The greatest communicators are the greatest listeners.

3. Be true to yourself. Listen to your gut feeling.

4. Follow the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

5. Ask “What can I do for you?” without any ulterior motive, because that won’t last. You will get what you give. The good will come around.

6. Be more of a giver than a taker.

These principles can be applied in the workplace and are particularly effective for women who work in competitive, stressful careers where the prevailing wisdom may be to only look out for oneself. But Carolyn says, “It’s got to take a lot more energy when you’re working off of negative energy rather than working off positive energy…Positive energy is my fuel.”

She believes that we will see our greatest wins when we play as a team rather than individual players. Carolyn says she learned the power of teamwork by watching her husband as he coached little league baseball over the years. “His most successful teams were those that worked as a team, not those that had a rock star.” Believing “It’s never too early, and it’s never too late” to make a move in a better direction, she advises women, “Don’t be afraid that someone is going to get a better shot if you help them. Raise each other up! If you take the high road and you help others, you will never take a wrong turn.”

Shannon Santschi is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. Comments or questions can be sent to [email protected].