Nfld. & Labrador

How Cecil Haire went from a stutter to the studio

Cecil Haire writes on how he worked hard to overcome a speech impediment and forge a career as a broadcaster.
Cecil Haire speaks to a St. John's conference of speech language pathologists 4:51

Earlier this week, Cecil Haire addressed the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists during a meeting in St. John's. Haire, the traffic reporter for the St. John's Morning Show, told his own story of how he grew up with a speech impediment, and not only overcame it, but became a well-known broadcaster.

 We asked him to adapt his speech as an essay for our website; you can also see an excerpt of his speech in the video above.

When I watch the movie The King's Speech, my eyes fill with tears. I have watched the movie 10 times, and it happens every time.

Cecil Haire, the traffic reporter for the St. John's Morning Show, has been working as a professional broadcaster since 1986. (CBC)

In many ways, the story of King George VI is my story, with a few variations. I was not born in to a royal family. I grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

It was the 1970s, and I had a speech impediment.

It was a time when services for a problem like that, for a kid like me, were lacking.  If you had an issue, you were on your own. You found your own way.

The King's Speech is a story of a man who became king unexpectedly. His name was Albert, and he was a stutterer.

He wasn't supposed to be the king of England. His older brother was king, but he wanted to be with a divorced woman and so he stepped aside. The younger brother became a reluctant king.

It didn't matter much that Albert was a stutterer before he was king. But once he did, the ability to speak well publicly was a necessity, due to the advent of radio.

This new technology placed a person's voice in the homes and minds of millions of people, all from a single microphone.

I connect to the character in this movie. 

He stammered, as did I. Many people tried to help him. Many well-intentioned, misinformed people tried to help me.

Albert, who called himself King George, had no choice but to get over his stuttering. Germany was waging war in Europe and millions of people needed leadership from their king. He had to give a speech on the radio.

He overcame this obstacle, as did I. He had to dig deep, and get over his insecurities, fear and low self-esteem, as did I.

And he found something inside himself, courage. As did I.

I feel his pain, frustration and anger during this journey.

And, at the end of the movie, when he overcomes everything, and he nails this speech and he walks out of the room with his head up, full of pride, I feel his pride. That is when the tears come.

Learning how to manage

I can't remember when I started to stutter, but I remember it was always part of me.

I stuttered, and I still do. I've become really good at covering it up.

As a child, I remember being teased by other children. Kids can be cruel. By about the age of 12, I started to develop strategies to overcome this. I learned to slow down my thoughts, to concentrate and focus while speaking. It helped a bit.

I never had the benefit of speech language services like those that are available to children today. I don't know if such services existed at the time and I don't know if my mother knew if they existed.

I do know that after my father died, and my mother had six children to raise without an income from a "breadwinner," times were rough. The needs of a child with a speech impediment went to the bottom of the list. There was no EAP program, no assessments, no hearing tests, no school guidance counselors and no trips to see a specialist.

When it came to stuttering, I was on my own.

This affected me in many ways. I was painfully shy and frightened to death to meet new people. Confidence was not my strongest point.

Transforming myself

When I reached 17 years of age, a transformation occurred. I was morbidly obese and weighed 300 pounds. I was referred to a dietitian and with two years I lost 100 pounds.

Having accomplished that, I thought I could accomplish anything. I still stuttered and to get over my shyness, I spent many hours reading books at the public library. I read all the Dale Carnegie books, and anything that I thought would help.

Around this time I did something that, looking back, was incredible.

Here I was, barely able to talk to strangers, I stuttered, I had thick Newfoundland accent, I had zero confidence ... and I declare to my family that I wanted to be a radio broadcaster!  It was my childhood dream.

I asked my mother a few weeks ago what she had thought of my "plan." She said, "My God, I figured you'd never make. I prayed and prayed. I knew it was no good to say anything so I said nothing. But when you pulled it off Cecil, I thought, it's a miracle."

As I prepared to go to broadcasting school I had a secret. I remember thinking that even if I never worked a day in broadcasting, at least going to school for two years would improve my speaking ability.

I've worked as a journalist in Newfoundland since 1986, in both television and radio. 

To the speech language pathologists in the room, tell your clients and their parents that if I can do it, anyone can.

I wish I could give you the easy answer as to I how I overcame this speech impediment but I can't. I wish I could give you the magic bullet that can go in your professional toolbox and make you the best speech language pathologist ever. But I can't.

Warming up

There is no magic bullet. I know what works for me and that is exercising my mouth. I perform mouth, tongue and lip exercises every day, several times a day.

I read something years ago that stayed with me. The author used a basketball team analogy. He noted that you wouldn't play a basketball game without warming up, so why would you go on the air without warming up? I've been warming up, daily, for 26 years and it has worked for me.

Another thing the speech language pathologists in the room may want to keep in mind is courage. The kids you deal with don't want to stutter. It affects their confidence and self-esteem.

My mantra when dealing with my kids is, "no guts, no glory". Digging deep and finding courage is so important. Courage brings confidence, self-respect, a sense of pride and the respect of others.

I know the speech language pathologists in this room know how to teach their clients the "mechanics." You know how to teach a good work ethic and the importance of practice.

But courage will bring them to the next level. Courage will teach them to believe they can do it and most importantly, to believe in themselves. 

About the Author

Cec Haire

Reporter

Cec Haire reports for CBC News from St. John's.