Plan “B”. A well thought out strategy in place only to be used if the primary course of action is unsuccessful. It’s sound thinking for most people, but not for Beth Troutman. More than once in her life, Beth has taken a bold step without any concern for what would happen if she fell short.
“One of my theories in life is ‘never have a Plan “B”, because you’ll use it’,” Beth says about the backup option. “If you have a Plan “B” you’re already thinking about failure.”
Beth Troutman has had many more successes than failures in her professional and personal lives. Growing up in Concord, NC, outside of Charlotte, Beth says she had to be tough at a young age to keep up with her older siblings, all brothers. Lessons in song and dance led to the first of her four appearances at the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington, at the age of 11 in 1988. Beth says she and brother Brandon were “a younger version of Donnie and Marie”, performing a medley of dance songs that included music from the movie Dirty Dancing.
“I thought Queen Azalea was the most amazing person I’d ever met up until that point,” Beth remembers. “I thought it was an incredible thing to get to be the Azalea Queen. Fast-forward thirty years when I was suddenly added to the list of really impressive women who have been Queen Azalea in the past, I was blown away.”
Beth talks about being invited to be the 2018 Azalea Queen at the start of our interview. She remembers the pomp and circumstance of the events and speaks glowingly about being moved by the time she spent with children at both the Brigade Boys and Girls Club and Blair Elementary School.
“The students were out there with all these beautiful signs, these bowties and corsages they had made,” Beth says through a wide smile. “They had decorated all of their bulletin boards. They handed me this huge basket of gifts. I didn’t get to go through the basket until I got home days after. They were so thoughtful. Everything they put in that basket was so lovely and so thoughtful, all these pictures and letters drawn by the kids. I’ll tell you, something like that moves you more than you can possibly imagine.”
A few years after that first Azalea Festival appearance, Beth had another life-altering experience. The 1992 presidential campaign between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot fueled Beth’s growing interest in politics. With her ninth-grade teacher’s guidance, Beth won a scholarship and the opportunity to meet the new President Clinton. She talks about the experiences, including her awkward entrance into the Oval Office, starting at 15:00 of the podcast.
Beth’s no-backup plan emerged during her college search, when she applied to just one in-state school: UNC Chapel Hill. She became a Tarheel and considered journalism as a career. But a cultural diversity class during her sophomore year caused a major shift in priorities. Beth combined degrees in Political Science and Women’s Studies, focusing on Feminist Political Theory. It ended up paving the road for the rest of her life.
“It was a brilliant new language almost for me,” she says. “Suddenly I was reading these authors who were articulating my feelings, but I didn’t have the words yet for what it was like to grow up as a woman in the south. As a woman who, I grew up in a beauty pageant culture as well, and I had these different feelings about that, but I didn’t know how to articulate what I really wanted to be and how I wanted to make a mark in the world as a woman, how I wanted to take up space as a woman and find my own voice as a woman. That degree is actually the thing that inspired me, and probably helped define me more than anything.”
Degree in-hand and determined to have an impact on the image of women in media, the graduate packed up her car and headed for Hollywood. No job. No apartment. No Plan “B”. Just an attitude and an eye on making a difference. The new NBC show The West Wing and its’ strong female characters, became her target.
“I thought ‘I’m just going to learn from these guys! If I’m going to learn how to really do Hollywood right and change Hollywood, I’m going to learn from the best in the business’,” she says. Beth talks about the set of circumstances and timing that landed her a job as production assistant on the show, and later as director’s assistant, at 18:00 of the podcast.
The experience on The West Wing brought another president into Beth’s life. In 2004, she moved back to North Carolina and entered the race for a seat in Congress from her home district. Supporters for her campaign included Martin Sheen, the award-winning actor who portrayed President Josiah Bartlett on the top-rated show. Sheen spent three days on the road with Beth as she challenged well-known Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in District 8.
“I will tell you Martin Sheen, as a person, is incredible,” Beth says. “He is so kind, and so generous, and so thoughtful, and just so giving of his time, obviously if he was willing to fly across the entire country. He spent three days on the campaign trail with me in a car just driving to small cities.”
The first-time candidate fell short in the election, but gathered 45 percent of the vote. She did not win a seat in Congress, but the notoriety and exposure helped launch her on-camera television career. WCCB-TV in her hometown Charlotte market hired Beth to anchor its’ Fox News Rising morning show, which she did for more than three years. Beth went on to host The Balancing Act on Lifetime, and in 2011 she moved to Phoenix to help launch Right This Minute, the nationally-syndicated show featuring viral videos. She appeared regularly on the Today Show focusing on social media reports. She talks about each of those opportunities starting at 26:15 of the podcast.
Beth’s mother Nancy was battling ovarian cancer in 2015 when she moved back home to accept a job with WCNC-TV, anchoring the station’s 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. newscasts. As her mother’s health worsened, Beth took time off to provide round-the-clock care, and she was with Nancy when she passed away. Beth also lost a close friend to breast cancer. The experiences changed her perspective on life.
“The thing that I couldn’t do well, I couldn’t disconnect from the information,” she remembers. “I was heartbroken every single day, because in Charlotte, a lot of what you end up talking about was crime and car wrecks and a lot of things, to me, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who were affected by it. It was really impacting my emotions in a very negative way. I was holding my mother’s hand when she took her final breath, and it changes you. It really does put things in perspective even more. I knew when I got back to the anchor desk I wasn’t aligned with my purpose any longer, this person who wanted to do a lot of good in the world.”
In January of 2017, Beth announced she was leaving WCNC. No Plan “B”. Just a desire to do God’s work. You can watch her goodbye to viewers by clicking here.
“I promised God I would listen, and I took a chance jumping without a parachute just assuming a parachute would open,” she says. “By chance I had already met some folks who created an organization called Give Hope Global. I ended up going to Haiti was the first thing I did.”
The work rejuvenated Beth’s purpose in life. She was no longer beholden to consultants and managers dissecting her on-camera performance. Her feedback came in hugs, not rating points.
“Here I am in Haiti, third world country, the poorest country in the western hemisphere working at an orphanage,” Beth says. “That changed my DNA. I was suddenly living what I had learned from my mother, that love is really the only thing that matters. I’m in this country where people have nothing compared to the material goods that we have here in America, yet they were so full of joy and gratefulness and just happiness and love and kindness. Watching that just solidified what my heart I think already knew, and I think that’s what God probably had in mind for me.”
While in Haiti, Beth shot and produced a series of documentaries to benefit Give Hope Global, helping raise money to continue the group’s efforts. The films received four Emmy Award nominations. Beth is now telling her story in motivational speeches, has started work on a new documentary series titled Live Life Forward. She has also produced and co-hosted several episodes of a podcast of uplifting stories called Hope Dealers.
“My plan was to get back to me,” she says.
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