Face to face with an Inspiring Canadian Icon
by Rose Marie Bresolin
A virtual wonder woman of her day, in the 1970’s people could watch Dini flying a pink helicopter as she reported traffic to commuters. Those of us who followed her came to look forward to the traffic reports, and to the stunning image delivering them. Dini’s vitae would present as outstanding even today. She anchored CityPulseNews at 5 and hosted Cityline. The Dini Petty Show she hosted on CTV was viewed extensively. It was during the filming of the Five O’clock News Live that viewers came to learn that not only could she hold her cool against the unexpected, but that she could also maintain the high degree of presence in the face of danger.
In an earlier interview with Dini I had asked if she would share what she thought was behind the remarkable ability to keep herself together on the outside, when inside she battled fear like the rest of us.
Dini: I came into the world during the bombing raids over England. I was born scared. My mother was lying on the operating table while the bombs were going off, yelling ‘how can they be out there taking life, when I’m in here giving it’; a story she told almost every birthday.
So, no matter what level a newborn registers anything at, I obviously registered something, which explains why in many situations I find myself wondering, ‘What am I doing here? There must be some mistake.’
My father had PTSD after the war, at a time when those suffering from it were considered a coward, so they never talked about it nor sought help. The result was my father was given to explosions of rage. So, I’ve known fear my entire life. People would say that I am brave. (pause) I’ve always been an adventurer, jumping out of planes and flying helicopters. I’m willing, and I’ve always jumped in with both feet. In youth I thought I was invincible.
Rose Marie: You have come face to face with fear on numerous occasions in your life and managed to hold strong against it. Tell us about the unnerving experience back on the day when you were setting up to do the 5 o’clock news for CP24 in the Automotive Building.
Dini: Yes, there was a moment when I experienced certain death: Several minutes before we were to go live, a very good-looking man walked up close and asked, ‘Are you Dini Petty?’ and when I nodded in the affirmative, he pulled a gun out of his jacket and pointed it at my chest. The next picture in my mind, I was no longer in the Automotive Building. I am standing on the edge of a rocky cliff and there’s a black void in front of me and I know I’m about to go into it because this is going to happen. At that moment I was not afraid. I did not think of my children and my life did not flash in front of me. The only question on my mind was ‘how is this going to happen? Will I walk into the void or float into it? No doubt I was in shock because it seemed that I stood over that cliff for a very long time, until I heard the guy laugh and say, ‘Hey it’s not a real gun.’
The next thing I know I’m back in the Automotive Building and screaming obscenities. My bodyguard who had frozen, chased the guy through the crowd. He got away. I look at the cameraman and he said, ’Hey we’re on in 20 seconds. Can you do it?’
‘Ya ya, go on, whatever.’
3,2,1, you’re on!’
‘Hi! I’m Dini Petty. There’s a lot going on here tonight. I’ll tell you more about it in a moment.’
When it was over and I drove home that night, I thought about it for a second. But I put it up there on the shelf. Then I walked in to be with my kids.
Everybody has fears. Growing up I suffered from low self esteem that came of being raised with what I call helpful criticism from my father… So, I often find myself dealing with things where I think I’m not good enough. We all do.
And she raises her cup of tea.
What Dini did in response to that incident is history. Both her extraordinary ability to hold together in the face of certain death and to maintain the expectation that she can deal with whatever’s in front of her, seems to be a mechanism that kicks in when fear is triggered in her. Her track record has me convinced that this is no ordinary person. And her being willing to jump in with both feet into the unfamiliar territory of acting in an upcoming movie, tells me that her sense of adventure is very much alive. It also leaves me wondering if the upheaval in the world at her time of birth might have triggered an energy that’s set at a level higher than most. It certainly stirred my curiosity to learn more about the energy that marked the skies when I was born.
A woman who has established herself as one of Toronto’s respected icons, Dini has expanded the world of possibility for women and contributed to a raised awareness. The film she will be playing in is a great testament to her and to the other women who have made significant contributions to the world at large and turned the view of what a girl can do on its head.
Rose Marie: We know the film is being made in honour of the unsung women who flew during WWII. Can you tell us something more about it?
Dini: The film is called Boundless, and I’ve been cast in the role of a retired pilot reminiscing back on her life and the moments that defined her career. I feel it as an honour to be associated with a group of strong and determined individuals who opened up the world of flying to include women.
The information collected for the film is from the account, ‘Sixty million miles’ in acknowledgement of the 1,048 women (WASP) who logged over 60,000,000 miles in the war effort from 1942-1944. After watching the trailer for Boundless, its power leaves me with goose bumps. The film is inspired by creator, writer and director Kate Campbell’s grandmother, Betty Grepley 1917-2003, who was a member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots that was founded by Amelia Earhart, Fay Gillis Wells and Ila Loetscher. Inspired by her grandmother, Kate is also a pilot and a Ninety-Nine. Betty Grepley flew out of Buttonville Airport and of the many stories she told Kate, one of them included a young woman who flew out of a pink helicopter- Dini Petty.
The production was shot in Guelph, ON. In addition to Kate Campbell, wonderful production assistance was provided by Buck Productions. The film received funding from the Haliburton County Development Corporation and private donations and recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign.
The Boundless project is a celebration of these brave women pilots of WWII and their untold stories of heroism and devotion. It is also the story of how these women, after serving with distinction, were never allowed to fly military or commercial aircraft again, nor were they truly recognized for their contribution until 2009, almost 65 years after they served.
Our interview now over, and as I finish wrapping up to leave, I catch a glimpse of Dini approaching the small stage in the social hub of the complex that she calls home. Listening to her as she addresses people gathered for an evening performance, I become aware that you could hear a pin drop. In gratitude for being given their full attention, Dini Petty ends her message with a smile and a regal wave. By the expression on the faces around her, the wave may as well have come from The Queen herself.
On her ‘second set of nine lives, as she describes her journey, Dini is finishing her One Woman Show and her memoir; ‘It’s my 75th birthday this January 15th, 2020 and I’ve promised myself to publish the memoir and do the One Woman Show before the year is over!”
Dini also continues to accept public speaking engagements; to request a booking she can be reached at dinipetty.com