KTTC-TV anchor Tom Overlie
Rochester Magazine: Is that Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille cologne I smell?
Tom Overlie: That is one of my favorite colognes, but I can’t always afford it. So I don’t have it on now.
RM: That must be the residual I’m smelling. Do I also smell some Vitamin E skin oil?
TO: I’m 47, I think. I’m going to be 48 in June. I think. I stopped counting after age 40. But people ask me how I get my skin so youthful looking, and Vitamin E is one thing I have used since I started in TV 26 years ago.
RM: That’s a good segue because I just found out today that you and I are the same age, which seems impossible, since you look about 12 years younger than me.
TO: Bless you.
RM: I would have liked you to dispute that.
TO: It’s Vitamin E and my Norwegian genes, I don’t know.
RM: When you were 12, as a snack, you once told us you’d catch these things, pull their wings off, and then toss them into a boiling vat of oil. You said, “They are crunchy, light and airy to eat.” Were you talking about: A) Bats, B) Woodpeckers, or C) Ostriches?
TO: None of the above. It was flying ants. This was in West Africa. I was in junior high and my friend Ivan and I would capture these ants—they are big and bulky—pluck off their wings and fry them in hot oil.
RM: It was Nigeria, right?
TO: Yes. My parents were there in the 1960s as teachers. My sisters were born there. The joke in my family is that all of my sisters were born in mud huts in Africa, and I was born in this fancy hospital in Minneapolis. My parents went back in 1980 as publishers of a Lutheran magazine. I spent three years there, from age 11 through 13.
RM: That must have been a defining experience.
TO: It was probably the most important period in my life. I attended an international school where my best friends were from Lebanon, India, the Soviet Union, all over the world. That gave me a global perspective at an early age to appreciate and be open minded to other people and cultures.
RM: You do a lot of work in the community. Any moments that stand out?
TO: I remember one of the first times I sang with Jane Belau at the Gonda, many years ago. I said let’s sing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” I saw an older lady standing off to the side. She was listening, getting choked up. This lady pulled me aside and said, “I just got word I have an eye disease and will go blind. It’s news that has rocked my world. I just got out of my appointment and here you are singing my favorite song, ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’” Sometimes when I’m getting pouty I think about people going through that kind of stuff.
RM: You’ve been doing a lot of writing.
TO: I’ve been writing YA [young adult] books. I take it very seriously. I put in four or five hours a day. I have a bunch of things simmering. Completed books. Almost completed books. I’m happiest when I’m in that world. I love the characters. They become like friends of mine. I worry about them. I think about whether I should kill off this person or that.
RM: Just like you would with regular friends. …
TO: Exactly. Or colleagues.
RM: Something about you I don’t know?
TO: Back in the day my name was Dag. My real name is Dag-Thomas Karmoy Overlie. My whole family went to Karmoy [Norway] in June to the island where my great grandparents farmed. In North Dakota and Iowa, I went by Tom. In Africa I went by Dag.
RM: Hey, Dag, I’ve seen annoyingly cool photos of your gorgeous farmhouse. I can’t put into words how phenomenal it is.
TO: That’s been my other job. Kevin [Larson], my partner of 20 years, and I do a lot of the stuff ourselves, though we hire some stuff out, too.
RM: You guys are really good at it.
TO: This house wasn’t just a step away from the grave, it had two legs in the grave. When it started out it looked like a haunted house, lost in the shrubs. You couldn’t see it from the road. It was a mess. But it reminded me of my grandfather’s house. So much of my past, the structures and spaces where I grew up, were full of happiness and joy. I felt this deep calling to save it. It’s been more work than we imagined. On the flip side, the reward has been more than we could have imagined.
RM: When you came here you were planning to go into the pharmaceutical business.
TO: I had done TV for 10 years. A friend, a reporter, had moved into the pharmaceutical business. I was looking into that, interviewing. We flew to Minneapolis on Y2K. We went down to Decorah [Iowa] to visit my sister. She said, “Jeff Oelrich is leaving KTTC; you should apply for the job in Rochester.” I decided I’d send in a tape, and the rest is history.
RM: What’s your preferred outfit when mudding drywall?
TO: I have this old pair of jeans…
RM: That’s not what I heard.
TO: Okay, when we mud and tape in the summer I’ve got this old ratty Speedo. When you are mudding and taping, you get messy. It’s hot. I’m a swimmer. You just don’t want your neighbors to suddenly show up and knock on the door.
RM: Good to know. Usually, I ask people to tell me something they wouldn’t want me to know, but you’ve already told me your name is Dag and you ate ants and you wear a Speedo when plastering your house. So …
TO: That’s probably plenty for now. Maybe next time.