Known to millions of listeners as the golden-throated super ego balancing Howard Stern's raging id, Robin Quivers is a broadcasting icon. This evening, she will return to her hometown of Baltimore to speak at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center's Be A Hero event, which was scheduled to take place in Power Plant Live but, because of the city's temporary curfew, has been relocated to Martin's Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley. Though tonight's event is sold-out, the online auction will continue for several days and includes a chance to attend a taping of The Howard Stern Show in New York.
A survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse herself, Quivers spoke to us about her passion for the cause and her positive memories of growing up in Baltimore. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
You're appearing at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center Be A Hero event tonight. I imagine your personal history with abuse is the reason for your involvement.
As a survivor myself, it's very important that we continue to raise awareness and continue to get the victims of child abuse the help and the support and the legal recourse that is available to them. So I'm very much excited to be a part of this and to help raise funds and awareness for this organization because those things were not necessarily in place when it happened to me.
Right. Baltimore Child Abuse Center came into existence in the late '80s. Do you think having a resource like it when you were growing up would have made a difference?
I can't necessarily speak to that but, certainly, there was no one talking about child abuse then, so that I would know that there were even options for me. It was really a secret and no one talked about it, and no one admitted that it happened to them. So it was this crime that was underground, and that's what made it so isolating because you imagined as a child that it had only happened to you.
I read the 2013 Rolling Stone feature on you recently and the writer made an interesting point, which is that you grew up with a lot of secrets so it's fitting that your job requires you to be very honest.
[Laughs] Well I truly do believe that people are as sick as their secrets, and truly, there's evidence more and more that being able to be open and honest is your salvation. It's the way to happiness. It's the way to having a successful, fulfilled life.
Were you aware of how much the abuse had affected you?
It becomes a well-buried secret. The result of the abuse and what you do afterwards and the fact that you haven't been able to talk to anybody interrupts your development. It interrupts your childhood, and things that you would have learned and understood and defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms that you might have developed don't get developed. I was very difficult to deal with. I was difficult to talk to. I had issues with trust. Those things were always getting in the way.
When you say difficult, it's hard to imagine that because, as an audience member, you always seemed very accessible and open on air.
Well, you weren't trying to work with me! It's one thing to be on the air and be an entertainer because you sort of do whatever you need to do in those moments. And people you're having difficulties with deal with them as well, and you all get on the air and you act as if everything is okay. Maybe things aren't that okay. It took a lot of therapy for me to be the kind of person you're happy to see in the morning. There are legendary stories about my temper and about my short fuse and about how difficult I was to talk to. Talent doesn't negate those kinds of things.
At what point do you think you began to understand and work through the residual trauma of your childhood?
Well, it was because I realized at some point that the people I was most abusive to were people who really loved and cared about me and wanted the best for me. Waking up to that, I suddenly said to myself, 'I've got to stop hurting the people who care about me.' And that's when I went into therapy to try to figure it all out. You know, you think you're going there for everyone else, but then you find out that you're the problem and what to do about it.
Are you still in therapy now?
I am, but that's sort of a post-cancer thing.
And how is your health now?
I am very well. I am cancer-free, and it's been almost three years.
For those who don't know, can you talk about what happened?
There was a tumor in my pelvis that was about the size of a grapefruit. It wound up laying on all of the organs in that area. Because of the pressure on my bladder, that's how it was discovered. I had to undergo 12 hours of surgery to remove it because it was in such a precarious place. And then, after surgery, I had to undergo chemo and radiation to ensure that they got everything, and it didn't come back.
How did that experience change you, if at all?
I think what I discovered was just exactly how I feel about life and what I mean to people and what people mean to me.
Those are all good things to know.
Absolutely. I've always been pretty good about that, but cancer makes you develop even more of a filter in terms of who you want to be with, how you want to spend your time, because life becomes that much more precious when you've almost lost it.
You grew up in Baltimore and suffered some pretty horrendous things here. Does coming back here dredge it all up again? What's your relationship with Baltimore now?
I come back to Baltimore at least a couple of times a year. I still have friends there. Baltimore afforded me a lot of resources that catapulted me into the life I live today. I got a great education in the Baltimore City Public School System. I had some of the finest teachers. I loved Western High School. I think about the stuff I learned there on a regular basis. So when I pass the building, I'm like, 'Oh! There it is!' I love that school. It did so much for me. And of course, I graduated from nursing school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore City, so that also was a great education and started me off on my career. Then, when I decided to change careers, I came back to Baltimore and went to the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. So Baltimore has always been my launching pad. There were resources and wonderful people along the way who helped me become who I am. I certainly couldn't blame the whole city based on incidents that happened in my home.
Well that's a very mature outlook.
All I know is that if those resources hadn't been in place. If Western hadn't been such a great school experience. If there hadn't been teachers and counselors who saw my talent and helped me. . . . I think that's why I don't have bad feelings. There was a part of my life that was really wonderful, and it was at school.
Do you think anybody at school knew what was going on with you at home?
Apparently, I was a very good actress. I went to school to forget all the other stuff.
That's another reason Baltimore Child Abuse Center and organizations like it are so important. Child abuse is so underreported. Everyone always thinks they would know if something were happening to their friend or family member, but, often times, they don't.
I was thinking about that. They always say, 'These are the signs that your child is suffering or struggling.' They are so subtle. They could be explained away a million different ways because that's what happened to me. Sure, people noticed I changed, but there was always something to tie it to. You know, it's not a broadcast. It's not like, 'SHE'S SUFFERING FROM CHILD ABUSE! THAT'S WHY SHE'S ACTING THIS WAY!' No. It's like, 'She's a teenager. She's this. She's that. She's moody. Whatever.' So it's not that obvious.
And just imagine at whatever age: 10, 11, 12, and sometimes younger, that you could be the person who destroys your whole family if you speak. Just imagine being a kid and having that kind of weight on your shoulders. 'If I tell, maybe everything will collapse.'
Yeah, on top of the actual abuse, that's unfair pressure and responsibility to put on somebody.
Yeah! That's more what's wrong with it than anything because children aren't prepared to deal with that.
No, how could they be? That's why awareness is crucial and it's so great that you're coming back to do this.
Well, it's one of the things I most like to do because of all of the statistics and articles you read about the permanent lifelong scars and handicaps abuse deals to people. I want people to know that you can, with the right help, be whole again. You can find your way again. You can find success and happiness and achievement in life.