January 29, 2011

Family, friends remember broadcast giant

Host of the morning talk show "Talkback" on WFAU died earlier this month

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

Norman Gallant never really went to work. He just took what came so naturally and did it front of a microphone for central Maine to hear.

Whether he was interviewing a guest, or getting to know a new friend on the street, Gallant was always interested in what they had to say -- because he genuinely cared.

Gallant always remembered that the show, like life, was about others.

"What a wonderful man he was," said friend Pat Truman. "Norman was just one sweet man."

Gallant passed away at 86 inside his Augusta home on Jan. 15. He had become a familiar friend to thousands of Mainers as host of the morning talk show "Talkback" on WFAU.

Gallant, the first person to ever broadcast on the station when it went on thr air in 1946, started hosting the half-hour show every day beginning in 1965. Gallant introduced listeners to thousands of guests -- from politicians to furniture makers -- over the course of more than 4,000 programs.

"He loved people," said Cay Gallant, who married Norman in 1949. "Even when we'd go to parties, I'd see him over in the corner and he'd be interviewing someone. He loved interviewing them because he learned about them. He enjoyed making people happy."

Truman first got to know Gallant as a caller of the latter's show.

Every weekday morning at 9:30, regardless of whatever else she might be doing, Truman said she would click on the radio to listen to Gallant's discussion with his guest.

The discourse was always civil, Truman said.

Gallant had a way of coaxing his guests to give answers, no matter how difficult the questions got.

"He would get the information he wanted," Truman said. "He could draw out conversations with people wonderfully."

Gallant had the same effect on those, such as Truman, who frequently called in. He would get to know the callers. And they, too, came to feel a deep affection for him -- even if they never met him face-to-face, Truman said.

"He was the perfect host," she said. "He had a very gentle personality and a good sense of humor. I don't know, he had a gift."

Gallant's style earned him respect within the community and among his peers, said Glenn MacDonald, whom Gallant recruited to the station after MacDonald returned from Vietnam.

Gallant was executive secretary for the Maine Association of Broadcasters for 20 years and was elected broadcaster of the year in 1974. He was inducted to the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1993.

"Norman always cared about the community and he always gave to the community in so many ways," MacDonald said. "He was a man without any pretense."

Gallant took MacDonald under his wing at WFAU. The foundation Gallant built held MacDonald as he traveled around the globe reporting for ABC radio, the Associated Press and United Press International.

"He taught me everything I knew to help me start out in broadcasting," MacDonald said via telephone from Arizona. "He mentored me like a father."

And Gallant was a good father, Cay said.

The couple's daughter, Cathy, learned she could always look to her dad for an attentive ear, Cay said.

"She just adored her dad," Cay said. "He adored her. When she got married, it was kind of hard for him."

Now it is Cay who is finding it hard without Norman.

She delights in talking about him, how he always wanted to protect her from troubles he was having at work, how he got to live his boyhood dream of being a broadcaster, how he relished his visits with family on Prince Edward Island, where he was born and raised.

Norman spent more than 61 years getting to know Cay and he never lost interest.

"To live with him was really a pleasure," Cay said. "He was wonderful to live with. I miss him already."

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

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