PHOTOGRAPHY BY Dan Cutrona
Ms. Huff’s hair and make-up by Jean Cho and Arnie Tepethjan, respectively, of Salon Gina Cho in Milford, MA.
Gail Huff’s favorite things about Southern New England:
-Visiting Newport, especially at Christmas: “I love the decorations!”
-In Providence: dining in the Federal Hill area, ice-skating on the Common and WaterFire
-Shopping at Wrentham Premium Outlets: “They have everything and I am addicted!”
-Dining in Wrentham: Luciano’s, Café Assisi and Nicky’s
-On Cape Cod: biking and fishing along the canal, Chatham Bars Inn, Belfry Inn, Whitehorse Beach, Plimoth Plantation.
It was Gail Huff who got the big surprise on her husband’s 50th birthday, rather than the other way around. Scott Brown, then a state senator in Massachusetts, started his big day with one big announcement to Gail and their daughters, Ayla and Arianna: he was going to run for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the Ted Kennedy.
Prior to September 12th, 2009, the day Scott turned the big five-oh, this was one busy, and relatively well-known, Southern New England family. Gail was enjoying her long-time position as an on-air reporter for Boston’s NewsCenter 5, Scott was in his third term in the Massachusetts Senate, older daughter Ayla was a star athlete at Boston College and already gaining fame following her stint on “American Idol” and younger daughter Arianna, an accomplished equestrian, was finishing high school.
So while Gail and her family were clearly more accustomed than most to a certain level of local notoriety, was she even remotely prepared with the level of, let’s just say it, outright fame that came with Scott’s successful bid?
“Absolutely not!” she exclaimed on a recent afternoon at the family’s Wrentham home.
She’d just flown in from D.C., where she now lives with Scott and has taken a position as a special projects reporter with an area TV station, and was running a little late after ‘The Truck’ wouldn’t start at Logan. “Blame it on the truck,” she said with a laugh of the now-famed vehicle Scott used as he crisscrossed the Commonwealth seeking the seat.
The move to D.C. was another aspect Gail had not remotely anticipated with Scott’s decision to run. “I had every intention of staying here, keeping the home front. We have extended family and friends here and high level of comfort,” she said, adding, “I loved my job, but even when Scott was home, he was busy with political stuff and I felt us drifting apart.”
And with remarkable candor, Gail explained, “Before Scott went to Washington, we’d never been apart for a single night. I was lonely.”
Though she may have been lonely, Gail Huff was still her usual focused self when the couple began discussing her plans to join Senator Brown in Washington. “Getting a job was key,” she said of her preparations for the move. While she’d worked fulltime at NewsCenter 5, Gail now keeps the workweek to three days. “Working as ‘Mrs. Senator Scott Brown’ is a role I’ve never had before,” she said of the time-consuming reality that she’s clearly reveling in.
When we spoke, it was shortly after the White House Holiday Ball, her first formal event since Scott’s election and a sort of coming-out party for Gail with D.C.’s powerful politicos, where she met President and Mrs. Obama. Gail stayed true to her Southern New England roots, wearing a gown created by emerging Boston-area designer Nara Paz.
Putting down roots was a major focus for the couple when they began to contemplate having children. Both Scott and Gail spent their childhoods in a sort of transient state, Gail because of “my father’s job and (Scott) because of a dysfunctional family,” she said, referring to her father’s position as an epidemiologist, a doctor who studies epidemics, and Scott’s difficult childhood, an aspect of his life he’s never hidden and is now well-chronicled in his bestselling book Against All Odds (see sidebar).
Her father’s career took the family from Iowa, where she was born, to Nevada, South Dakota…the list goes on. The Huff family moved to Waltham, Mass., in 1978 and Gail graduated from high school there in 1980. She went on to graduate from Bentley College, also in Waltham, with a bachelor’s in business communications but, she said, knew pretty quickly it was not a career she would find satisfying.
“I’d wanted to be a reporter since I was eight or nine years old, but my parents wanted me to have something to fall back on, but I dreaded the thought of (working in business accounting) after school; dreaded it!” she said, so ultimately she ended up going for her dream, pursuing a masters in broadcast journalism at Emerson College.
Pursuit of said dream would seem to have been a good decision: “My first professional job out of college was as a news anchor at WNCT, a CBS affiliate in Greenville, North Carolina,” said Huff.
Gail was able to finance much of her education by modeling professionally. She met fellow professional model Scott Brown, famously featured fully nude as Cosmopolitan magazine’s “Sexist Man Alive” in June of 1982, in 1985.
During our interview, daughter Ayla was also spending the day at the family’s Wrentham home. When asked about Scott’s alleged attire on their first date, reported in the New York Times to have included “pink leather shorts”, Gail threw her head back and laughed at the idea. Ayla called out from the dining room, saying “Mom, that was me!” owning up to sharing the story with the media.
“Oh, that’s been family lore for years,” said Gail of the minor misinformation reported in the media. “Models were paid with clothing all the time and these were $750 shorts and they weren’t really shorts, they were ‘knee-ish’ length and more of a magenta color.”
So let the record show; Scott Brown arrived at the Top of the Hub in Boston for his first date with Gail Huff dressed in haute couture magenta leather, knee-length pants.
The couple married in 1986 and settled in Wrentham in 1987, when Gail was working as a reporter for Channel 6 in Providence and Scott was attorney in Boston. “We took out a ruler and ruled exactly half-way between Boston and Providence and it was Wrentham!” said Huff. “We love the rural nature of Wrentham…and the people are very friendly. We like the slower pace since both of us have always worked in the city,” she said.
And they’ve been there ever since.
“We both grew up moving and all I knew, seriously, was that once we had kids, we wanted to plunk them down and stay in one spot,” she explained. “We wanted them to have one home, one place, one school system…the exact opposite of what Scott and I had.”
Gail and Scott now spend much of their time in a one-room condo in Washington D.C., close enough to the Russell Building where the senator’s office is located, that Scott can walk to work. “It’s me, Scott and the dogs; he takes the dogs to the office,” said Huff.
But it’s the house in Wrentham, filled with family photos on virtually every surface, that is still very much home-base for the couple and their daughters. It was also in their Wrentham home where the couple enjoyed watching the Scott Brown spoof on “Saturday Night Live” just weeks after the election, an early indicator of the national prominence headed Senator Brown’s way.
The skit features the hunky John Hamm playing the role of Senator Brown who keeps inadvertently interrupting a meeting of Democratic heavyweights such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Barney Frank who all quickly devolve into “Brown”-related fantasies each time he enters the room. Hamm is simply hysterical in the role and does this exaggerated stud-muffin wink at the camera every time he’s in the room.
Gail and Scott had no early knowledge that the skit was going to run, she said. A friend called around midnight and woke the couple up. There was nothing on the Internet yet, so they went back to sleep. Scott was up early the next morning and the friend had emailed a link with the skit.
“Scott was yelling at the bottom of the stairs ‘You’ve got to come down right now!’” said Gail. “We were both rolling around on the floor laughing and then Scott went around doing the wink at everyone for a while after that,” she said, laughing and pantomiming an exaggerated wink of her own.
As we wrapped up our afternoon in Wrentham, sitting around the kitchen table eating pizza, Gail and Ayla were getting ready to head to Foxwoods Resort Casino where Ayla was slated to appear at a celebrity fundraiser. While Ayla was in the family room having her and make-up professionally done for the event, her cell phone rang and it was clear from her end of the conversation that certain U.S. Senator was calling his elder daughter to caution her to behave herself that night.
While Ayla assured the person on the other of the call with “Yes, Daddy, I won’t stay out to late”, Gail smiled. As Ayla ended her call with “All right, I love you too,” Mom called over “Is that Daddy?”
Ayla’s response? “No, it’s the other man I call ‘Daddy’.”
And that’s kind of the overall feeling one gets spending time in the Brown/Huff household. They’re undeniably a little famous, yet they’re also undeniably a typical family.