Dirty Jobs Host Mike Rowe on His 82-Year-Old Mom's Writing Career: 'It’s Never Too Late'
Peggy Rowe’s new book is called About Your Father And Other Celebrities I Have Known
Back in the early nineties when Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe was starting out at QVC on the overnight shift, selling such items as the Ten Piece Unbreakable Dinner Service and collectible dolls, the station would receive occasional letters extolling his talents. "Why is he hidden away in the middle of the night" asked Claire Weaver. JoAnn Adams wrote: "That fella is terrific!" Fran Miller? She called him "charming and authentic."
The fan mail was all sent from the vicinity of Baltimore, Maryland, where Mike’s mom, Peggy Rowe, lived with her husband John.
"In retrospect it was not my finest moment," says Peggy Rowe with a laugh. "I was concerned about Mike’s career. He was stuck being on in the middle of the night. I think the producers were afraid to put him on in prime time. And I wanted them to know what a fine host he was, so I wrote from several different perspectives from different women and I gave reasons why my son should have a prime time slot on QVC."
"I didn’t send them from my zip code," she notes. "We’d go for drives on weekends, and I’d drop them in the mail in Pennsylvania and then maybe down in Washington, D.C."
The story is included in Peggy’s new book, About Your Father And Other Celebrities I Have Known.
Many are based on emails and texts sent to her son, whose QVC career led to Dirty Jobs, Returning the Favor on Facebook Watch, the podcast That’s The Way I Heard It and a huge fan base, much larger than suburban Maryland.
During her son’s QVC career, Peggy describes waking up at three in the morning to make notes and giving her son constructive advice: "Don’t call the topaz sputum-colored, for example."
"In 1990, there was no training period, and they couldn’t hire salesmen because many of them couldn’t function on TV, and then they couldn’t hire tv people because many of them couldn’t sell," says Mike, "so if you could talk about a pencil for eight minutes, you were put on a three-month probationary period, and during that time you were given an endless litany of products that had failed to sell in prime time. So you were basically out there without a net."
"When I got the job, I never expected to make it past the current shift. And so I made fun of the products and sometimes the viewers in a good-natured way. And so for three hours, it was kind of an improvisational yard sale. Things often went horribly off the rails," he recall.
In writing about raising three sons (Mike 58, and his brothers Scott, 54, and Phil, 52) in Baltimore County, Peggy says there was no shortage of material. That includes the story of how her husband (against her wishes) made Mike pay for a scout camp when he was a teen, his college text books and even rent while living at home in his early 20s. But when Mike moved out in his mid-20s, his dad told him he had saved all the money he had paid to his parents over the years and put it into a savings account. And he transferred the account to Mike.
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"John’s argument was he has a part-time job, let’s see if he can do it," says Peggy. "If not, he said, 'I‘ll be here,' but he never told me he was putting it aside."
"My folks raised three kids on a single teacher’s salary," says Mike. "And my dad, I think is fair to say, is tight with money. He counts his pennies, but today he’s 87 and he retired with a nest egg and raised a family, it’s heroic to me."
"The book is about the last 60 years of my life with my husband, who is 24/7 walking and talking material," explains Peggy. "Very quirky. He said to me 'Am I going to be able to go out of the house after this book hits the streets?' And I said 'Sure, you will be able to go out of the house. But people will know a lot about you.'"
The two have been married for 60 years this fall. "I have a short answer," she says when asked for their secret to making it last. "I say a sense of humor, and of course the longer answer is respect."
While her book tour is canceled because of coronavirus, Mike is Zooming with his mother and posting their conversations on his Facebook page "Mondays With Mother,” where millions have listened in. "My mom has written a very funny book at the height of the plague," he says. "It’s on the shelves, but nobody’s in front of the shelves, so from a basic marketing standpoint we’re bootstrapping it as best as we can.And I’m doing whatever I can to try and shamelessly plug the book without being a crass capitalist in the midst of a worldwide pandemic."
Peggy, whose first book: All About My Mother: True stories About a Horse-Crazy Daughter and her Baseball-Obsessed Mother, became an unexpected bestseller in 2018, says, "If I’m known as a writer who can lift your spirits and make you happy and give you a good laugh, that’s a good thing."
"I think she’s proving that it’s never too late," Mike adds. "People look at an 82-year-old woman who is suddenly living and doing precisely what she believes she was put in the planet to do, and that’s freakin’ great."