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Learn to Give More Than You Take With Leeza Gibbons

When you meet Leeza Gibbons, you know one thing for sure: she has a big heart.

At her picturesque and modern-cottage-style home in West Hollywood, she greets me with open arms and a big smile.“Come on in, make yourself feel right at home,” she says with excitement. Her positive energy is contagious. “My home is yours,” she adds with a smile.

True success

Inside the picketed cottage (where Gibbons lives and works while a newer home is being built), she has created a sunny environment that reflects her generous nature. Flowers and artwork abound to create a warm and welcoming feeling that makes visitors relax easily.

“For me, my sanity rests in my sanctuary,” she says. “I believe, if you surround yourself with natural beauty and things that bring you comfort, you will be better prepared to face the world outside with objectivity and kindness.”

This positive attitude has factored into Gibbons’ tremendous success as a well-known TV personality. She found her calling early. Gibbons was raised in Irmo, South Carolina, a quant suburb of Columbia, and it was there that she decided to study journalism.

Her father, Carlos, was a former state superintendent of education, and her late mother, Jean, was a real estate agent. Both parents instilled in her the conviction that hard work, dedication and being kind to others were the key ingredients for a successful life.

A natural storyteller

Gibbons expresses this in a simple childhood story.

“I remember when I was young, I came home from school one day upset that I was not a hero in math, science, sports or music,” she recalls. “However, my parents pointed out that my natural talent was in storytelling. They never dwelled on the negative and only emphasized the positive. That gave me the encouragement I needed to pursue my ambitions early in life.”

She adds, “The clarity and direction my parents provided became all-consuming to me, to the point that I began naming my Barbie dolls after famous broadcasters.”

Her determination for success took her to the University of South Carolina, where she excelled in journalism and communications. After graduation, her first job was as a journalist with a CBS affiliate based in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina. She then moved on to co-host PM Magazine in Beaumont, Texas, before hosting the news on Channel 8 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

International celebrity

Gibbons’ talent was quickly recognized and brought her to the national level as the weekend co-host of Entertainment Tonight. This high-profile assignment launched her international career as a TV news celebrity. Soon after, in the mid-1980s, she became a permanent fixture on ET.

Despite her achievements, the core values of her upbringing never changed. “Success was never about me,” she says. “It was always about the stories I could tell about others.”

Her continuing pursuit of excellence lead her to host many more popular TV shows, including My Generation and America Now. “It has been a privilege to meet and promote so many talented and successful professionals,” she says.

Fierce optimism

Characteristically, her new book expresses her singular approach to life and career with powerful recommendations for others on how to build a positive and optimistic lifestyle. Fierce Optimism: Seven Secrets for Playing Nice and Winning Big was released this past April and provides genuine insights to help people realize a more satisfying way of life by giving more than they take.

“Nothing takes people by surprise more than sincere kindness,” she says. “A smile and a good heart can sometimes be your greatest weapon in what can be a vicious world.”

Giving back

In spite of her global success and achievement, Gibbons remains grounded in the core values and principals of her youth. But don’t be fooled by her ‘girl-next-door’ innocence: Gibbons has shown she can hold her own in the most cutthroat of environments, like Celebrity Apprentice.

“Winning Celebrity Apprentice last year was a milestone for me because I achieved it honestly without diminishing others, as so often happens,” she explains.

Gibbons took the $700,000 win from Celebrity Apprentice and launched Leeza’s Care Connection, a facility for homecare givers who care for loved ones suffering from disabilities or terminal diseases.

Supporting those who support others

“Supporting these compassionate caregivers is equally as important as the lives of those they care for,” she says based on her own personal experiences. Gibbons’ mother suffered from progressive Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in 2008.

In recognition of her contributions, then Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, appointed her to the board that oversees California’s stem cell research agency. Her candidacy for the role was unquestionable as she is a proponent of care for those suffering.

She recently opened a new facility in a heritage house in her hometown of Irmo­—where the historic Mungo Family now functions as an additional site of Leeza’s Care Connection.

A legacy of giving

“My mother inspired me to create a legacy that would survive her passing,” she says. “Mungo House was an iconic neighbourhood focal point for its gardens, flowers and architecture. Every time I see it, I am grounded back to my mom’s vision of a place that would help more than it hurt.”

Much like her own home, Gibbons got involved with designing and decorating at Mungo House and learned how to do plumbing, electrical and swing a hammer and shovel, too. Asked what the renovation at Mungo House meant to her, she didn’t talk about the wallpaper or the colour scheme.

“Getting my hands dirty and working with the other volunteers, I felt a common gratification in just knowing this would be of value to others.”

To hear her talk about it, it’s easy to forget that she is one of the most recognizable TV personalities in America who could have easily lived a life of luxury, troubled by little else. Clearly, for Gibbons, the values her parents encouraged—hard work, dedication, kindness—are her guiding light. And Fierce Optimism isn’t just the name of a book,it’s a way of life.