Mary Louise Kelly was wearing body armor and sitting in a Black Hawk helicopter when she received the call.
It was the nurse from her son Alexander’s pre-school in Washington. The four-year-old was ill. Barely breathing. He had to be taken to the hospital.
“Can you please come over right away?” The nurse asked.
No. She could not. Mary Louise was high in the air over war-torn Iraq – not anywhere close to home.
Suddenly, the line went dead and Mary Louise was unable to reach the school. She was also unable to do anything to help her son.
That was four years ago and fortunately the situation turned out to be nothing serious. Over a recent dinner, Alexander, now a smiling eight-year-old, charmingly told me he doesn’t ever remember the moment.
But, naturally, his mother does. It was precisely then, sitting in that noisy helicopter thousands away from not only Alexander, but also her elder son James, that Mary Louise Kelly decided it was time for a career change.
She had been a National Public Radio correspondent for years. Her coverage on terrorism, national security and spies had taken her to hot-spots all over the world. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Iraq. She’d filed enough adrenaline-pumping stories to fill any would-be international journalist with envy. But each adventure took her far, far, away from her husband and their boys.
So Mary Louise hung up her flak jacket and resigned from NPR to spend more time at home and write her first novel. A spy-thriller called Anonymous Sources, it just came out last June from Simon and Schuster to great reviews.
I read it two weeks ago and loved it. I holed up in a small coffee shop here in Arezzo for the final 50 pages, unable to stop. Normally, I prefer non-fiction. Biographies. Histories. Thrillers sometimes are so implausible, I roll my eyes as I read them. This one, however – while it does have a bigger-than-life blow-up-the-White-House-type plot line – is woven with such truly engaging and believable characters that I was completely absorbed.
There’s a scrappy, determined reporter gal, whom I would’ve – mostly – loved to have been back in my own journalist days. There’s a gruff, yet fatherly, editor who sips champagne whom I think I actually did work for a few times. There’s also a sexy British spy who is perfectly at ease in his own skin whom I am sorry to say I never have met.
There are also car-sized loads of bananas. And a cat that prowls the corridors of the CIA. But I don’t want to give everything away here.
Let’s just say that as Mary Louise and I had lunch together yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking about what a wonderful trade she seems to have successfully made.
She may no longer be covering the spy-beat and flying in Black Hawk helicopters. But she did get General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, to write a recommendation for her book which is proudly splashed on its front cover. She is now living in Florence, Tuscany with Alexander, James and her husband, Nick. The boys’ school is always nearby. She studies art history, is a member of a book club (which incidentally happens to be reading Anonymous Sources), and is hard at work writing her second novel.
Her adventures certainly continue.
Another example of the many forms that great communicators can take.
Let me know if you buy Mary Louise Kelly’s book, Anonymous Sources, and tell me about a great communicator you know!
Til next time,