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Wit, wisdom and warmth: Meredith Vieira uncensored

Balancing work & home

Getting ready for her new assignment on the Today show, Meredith Vieira shares her private side - from the crisis that made her marriage stronger to why her kids think she's a mess.

Vieira found that reassuring. But she was taught to be strong from an early age. She was raised in East Providence, Rhode Island, with three older brothers. "I was always kind of a tough cookie because I had them," she says. "I was much more aligned with their way of thinking." Her mother, a homemaker, and father, a doctor, were both first-generation Portuguese-Americans. Most of her father's patients were Portuguese immigrants; many of them paid him in homemade port wine or by doing chores. "Suddenly there would be a stranger in the yard, mowing the lawn. I'd say to my mom, 'Who's that?' She'd say, 'Oh, that's Mario. He's Daddy's patient.'"

Her parents sent Vieira's three brothers to a Quaker boys' school and Vieira to its sister school, which she loved. "It was extremely empowering," she says with a smile, "almost too much so. Our senior year, we took classes at the boys' school, and we would come out of class going, 'What idiots.'"

School may have made a difference, but her parents were her inspiration. Her mother was a "June Cleaver mother — there were always cookies being baked," but she was fiercely opinionated as well, a die-hard Republican and "always outspoken." Her mother never said she wished she herself had a career, but "I think that she wanted more for me," says Vieira. "She was always pushing me to get out there and be something. Especially as a rebellious teenager, I thought, I don't want to end up like you, around the house. It wasn't until I had children that I began to see that she was everything I wanted to be. I was fortunate enough to be able to say that to her before she died," at 90 years old, two years ago. "She died in her bed. I was holding her in my arms. All her kids were with her," she says softly. "It was just the way she wanted to go. I should be so lucky.'"

Her father was "a great man," quieter than her mother, but an example nonetheless. When a 20-something Vieira was fired from an early on-air job at a Providence television station, she went home and cried in her room. "My dad said, 'Do you believe you have no value?' I said yes. And he answered, 'Then why should anyone else believe that you do?' So the next day, I marched back into the office and said, 'I'm going to prove you wrong.'" The news director agreed to give her a second chance. "Maybe he hadn't seen that backbone," she says proudly. "He saw it that day." A few months later, she was "discovered" when a headhunter was passing through Providence and caught Vieira on a broadcast.

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