IN Conversation with Rhiannon Ally

Rhiannon Ally. Photo courtesy of ABC News

ABC news anchor and Kansas City native Rhiannon Ally embodies the modern ideal of a woman who has it all: glamorous job, successful husband, adorable kids, a home in picturesque Park Slope, Brooklyn, and a large following on Instagram. On top of all that, she wrote a children’s book, Mommy, Please Don’t Go to Work! (Ascend Books, 2018) that honestly examines the emotional toll inevitably exacted on women for having it all.

Ally grew up in Kansas City, first in the historic Northeast, where her grandmother still lives, then in Raytown, where her family relocated when she was in third grade. After graduating from Raytown South High School. Ally earned a degree in communications at University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she met her future husband, Mike Marza, now a reporter and weekend anchor for ABC7 in New York.

Before her current job co-anchoring World News Now and America This Morning, and guest appearances on Good Morning America, Ally was evening news co-anchor at KSHB-TV in Kansas City. Prior to that she anchored at WFOR-TV in Miami. Ally also hosted Better TV, a syndicated Meredith program where she interviewed newsmakers, including Madonna, Denzel Washington, Caroline Kennedy, and Gloria Steinem. She has cooked with celebrity chefs, including Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, and Mario Batalli and appeared in a music video for Matt White’s Falling In Love (With My Best Friend).

IN Kansas City chatted with Ally recently by phone from her car as she was leaving ABC’s Times Square Studio.

What are your connections to Kansas City?
I grew up on the Missouri side and I loved it. We try to get back as much as we can. Especially because our son, Roman, was born in Miami, but both our girls were born in Kansas City, so they are very aware that they are from Kansas City. It’s still very special to us. My husband is from Kansas City as well. Both our families are still there.

What are your earliest memories of Kansas City?
I remember living in the Northeast area. My grandmother still owns a house there. I remember walking down to some of the restaurants that were by our house, and I remember the neighbors and how close everyone was. That whole side of the family, we all lived in that neighborhood when I was a little girl—all my aunts and uncles and all my cousins. I remember us playing together and going to the neighborhood pool at Budd Park. I remember walking to school at Thacher Elementary [demolished in 2015]. They’re all very good memories.

We moved to Raytown when I was in third grade, which is a really fun age to move to a new area because you definitely are the new kid. Everyone was so welcoming and it’s such a lovely little town. It still is like that, to this day. It was such a great childhood. I remember doing Girl Scouts in Raytown and all the other fun activities. I played softball. A lot of my high school friends are still my best friends.

You have a two-TV-personality household. How did you and your husband, Mike Marza, meet?
We met in college, but we didn’t start dating right away. We had a journalism class together, and once that class was over, we lost touch. Mike graduated a year before I did. He was working as an anchor and reporter in Topeka, and he came back and spoke to our class. We reconnected then and he said, “Why don’t you come to our station in Topeka and shadow me and see if it’s something you’re serious about doing?”

So, I shadowed him and saw what life was like as a reporter. It was kind of amazing. It was right after Pope John Paul passed away, so that was his story for the day. So, we went to a Catholic mass. I remember the faithful were crying, and I remember watching him put this story together. At the end of the day, we ended up going out to dinner, and it wasn’t really a date, but while we were at dinner, he asked me if I would like to go on a proper date.

On our first proper date we went to Tomfooleries and hopped around the Plaza and just kind of got to know each other. That would have been 2005 and we got married in 2008.

You spent four years in Miami. What were the best and the craziest things about living there?
Oh, Miami was such a wonderful time in our lives! We loved living in Miami. It’s so wild being a kid from the Midwest, and moving somewhere where it’s warm all year round, and you’re at the pool on New Year’s Day, and palm trees are lit up with Christmas lights.

We moved to Miami before we had kids but then we had our son while we were there, so we got to see both sides of Miami. We saw it as young, childless professionals, and then we saw it as parents. It’s a lovely place that doesn’t get enough credit as being very family friendly. There’s so much to do for kids.

I love Miami, and people in Kansas City have a wrong idea of what it’s like.
They really do. I think if you only visit for a week or a weekend you get this idea that—I mean, New York is a little bit the same way. People who have never lived here have this idea of what it is like, and there is this whole other side of it. It’s so much more than what you see on TV or in movies, and I think Miami is like that as well. I think people see it as kind of a party town and it can be that. It also can be just a really fun, family friendly place.

Now you live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with three little kids. What’s that like?
[Laughs] Listen, raising kids in New York City is so hard and so wonderful at the same time. There are so many things about it that are difficult. It’s getting easier now that we’ve been here a while, and the kids are getting a little bit older.

When we first moved here our youngest was only eight months old, so I remember those early days having to carry the stroller up and down the subway stairs because a lot of the stations don’t have elevators. And I remember having to teach the kids how to walk everywhere, coming from Overland Park, where you drove everywhere. It’s funny to look back. We lived right by Roe Park. It was a beautiful park with a big playground just three blocks from our home, and we never walked there, not one time. So, getting the kids used to walking was really tricky. There are days when we’ll walk three or four miles. Now they’re used to it because it’s just part of their life. It’s amazing what kids can adapt to.

There are parts that are very difficult. Obviously, it’s very expensive and even kids’ activities are very expensive. But there’s so much culture and so many museums and just seeing so many different types of people. It’s really been lovely to see them embrace the city—even the hard parts.

It is hard to be away from our family. Both our families are still in Kansas City. My mom tries to come out as often as she can, and we try to get back, and Mike’s family as well. But it’s hard. There are days where [the kids] will have a recital or a grandparents’ day at school, and it’s hard to have them so far away.

Michael Strahan, Rhiannon Ally, Robin Roberts on the set of Good Morning America. Photo courtesy of ABC News

How were you able to make the jump every local anchor dreams of, from local affiliate to network?
I really think I got my foundation from the first internship I did at KMBC in Kansas City. I had to do everything. I actually ran the teleprompter for Donna Pitman, who is the anchor now. I went on stories with her. I got coffee for them. I did whatever they needed me to do. I really learned the basics of journalism there.

When we came to New York, I had all this experience, but we had three kids under 5 years old. Mike had gotten a job with the local ABC affiliate in New York, and we had decided I was going to take a little time off just to get everyone settled. That was a hard decision because our business does not reward taking time off. It’s not a business where you can push the pause button and get right back into it. So, I was very nervous, and Mike was so supportive, and my agent was so supportive. My mom and everyone said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to get back into it.”

Then Covid happened and no one was hiring, and the kids were home all day every day anyway. So, I ended up taking about a two-year break. At that point, even though I had 13 years of experience, I didn’t know if anyone would hire me. It was really scary.

At that moment my agent reached back out to ABC. I had met with them years ago, in 2017, and one of the people in the talent department remembered meeting with me and she said, “Have her come in.” So, I met with her, and she said, “Why don’t you start freelancing for us?” I said, “Absolutely. Just get me in the door and I will run with it. I will show everyone what I can do.” That was a year and a half ago. I started freelancing and within six months they offered me a full-time contract. The key was getting in the door and pushing.

I’m so thankful for everything I’ve been able to do, from being on GMA, GMA3, Nightline and working with these amazing people every day. To work with these people I grew up watching—Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos—I pinch myself every day.

When you talk to Robin and George and the others on air, there seems to be genuine affection and respect that isn’t always present with broadcast teams.
I wish people could see even more of what goes on behind the scenes, because the people you see on the screen—Robin, George, Michael Strahan—are who those people are in real life. They are so authentic, and that is all I’ve ever strived to do in my career, is to be myself. I feel very much that the viewer at home can see through any type of phoniness, people feel that. It can be hard to be yourself, because sometimes you want to present yourself differently, or you want to keep something from the viewer, but I think being your authentic self is best, always.

Ally’s 2018 children’s book, Mommy Please Don’t Go to Work!

The title of your children’s book, Mommy, Please Don’t Go to Work! is a stab to the heart of any working mother.
I know.

What made you write the book?
When we were in Kansas City I switched—in Miami I was the morning anchor and in Kansas City Mike and I were the evening anchors together at Channel 41, so we were both gone every night. My youngest daughter wasn’t born yet and my middle daughter, when she was born, I was already doing nights, so she was used to it, but it was a very hard change for my son. I would try to come home for dinner most nights between shows, and when I was leaving, he would beg me every night, “Mommy, please don’t go to work.” It just broke my heart. I thought, “I can’t be the only mom going through this.” Tons of moms deal with this guilt. Society makes us feel so guilty for wanting these careers when we have kids.

It’s very raw. Kids never say, “Daddy, please don’t go to work.”
That’s true. They don’t. I don’t know why that is. My husband is just as hands-on [with the kids] as I am. I have to go out of town for work sometimes, and he can handle it all without me. But the kids don’t tend to cry as much when it’s him going off to work.

I think dads are better at dealing with the pressures. I don’t think dads feel the same guilt, I don’t think they internalize it like moms do. I think most dads in general are able to compartmentalize. They can realistically say to themselves, “I have to go to work.”

It used to make me laugh how if my husband brought a tray of cookies to school, he was a hero, the other moms fawned over him. I think working dads generally feel they are doing a great job. Whereas working moms always feel like they are failing to live up to expectations.
Absolutely. I wanted to write a love letter to moms.

Would you like to write another book, or do you feel like this was an isolated project you needed to put into the world?
I would love to write another children’s book. I would love to write a novel. Writing is one of my favorite things to do, at my core. It’s something I enjoy so much. I think children’s books are so vital, and adults need books, too. I’m an avid reader. I read at least two or three books a month. I enjoy beautiful writing. I’m trying to find the idea that really inspires me so that I can just run with it. I wrote that book while I was working full-time at Channel 41, while I was pregnant and had two little kids, but I was so passionate about it, I found the time to do it. I’m just waiting for that type of inspiration to hit me again. I got so much great feedback after the first book. It’s a joy to write a book that inspires other people.

Interview condensed and minimally edited for clarity.