Darla Desiderio has two careers. She's both a medical salesperson and author of the Gage the Flying Whippet series of children's books.  

Darla Desiderio has two careers. She's both a medical salesperson and author of the Gage the Flying Whippet series of children's books.  

Darla Desiderio grew up in Bernardsville in New Jersey's horse country. Although it's a quaint town, it's an hour away from New York City so her style has a big city edge. When her career in medical sales meant a transfer to Pinehurst, the women she encountered on her sales calls were eager to give Darla a Southern style makeover.  

"Everyone from the metro area knows you always wear black," Darla says. "But these ladies would say to me, "Girl, you can’t look like you’re going to a memorial service every day. You have to get some color in your life!" 

Now Darla definitely has a colorful life as both a salesperson and a children's book author. She began writing two years ago after a some major life changes. "I have always had these stories in my mind's eye," she says. "I would always daydream about them. Then in 2013 my sister's husband died of cancer. Two years later, my brother's wife died of cancer. My father died this past summer. It makes you realize there is no waiting. Follow your dreams now."

It was her father, Robert, who had always encouraged her to dream big. So on evenings and weekends she began writing the Gage the Flying Whippet children's book series that includes two books and a Coloring Zine, all available on Amazon and Kindle. Her third book is scheduled to be released in the spring. On Dec. 2, she'll be leading a children's coloring zine workshop at Ballantyne Reading Academy. (Details: 704-438-7909). 

The book that launched Darla's writing career. 

The book that launched Darla's writing career. 

Her books are geared to ages 7-10. In the first one, a magical canine friend helps a young girl with dyslexia learn to overcome obstacles in her life. "I had a wholesome childhood," Darla says. "I was a tomboy - always running everywhere. I wore my hair in pigtails and I used to love to look back to see if I could run fast enough to make them fly. I was dyslexic. That was my personal struggle. I wanted to capture a time in our childhood when we face failure, disappoinment and feeling alone. I wanted to explore how that impacts our self-esteem and how we overcome our struggles." 

A tomboy in pigtails. Darla around age 11 in her super groovy 1970s bedroom that she loved.  

A tomboy in pigtails. Darla around age 11 in her super groovy 1970s bedroom that she loved.  

As the owner of a Whippet, she chose one as a reoccurring character in her stories because they are gentle, patient, and intuitive dogs. "Their feelings are communicated through their lovely almond shaped eyes that express their every emotion," she says. "And they can run at speeds of up to 35 mph. They fly! Magical!"

Darla took time from her two busy careers to answer The O Report's questions including everything from what she loves about this stage in her life to her favorite place for lunch and her must-have beauty product. 

How do you stay in shape?

I had to retire from running after a car accident in 2016, so 9Round boxing has been an excellent full-body workout. Along with boxing and weight lifting, my favorite exercise is walking my two dogs. There is no happier time for a dog than when they are on their walk. I own two dogs: Gage, a boy Whippet, and a former stray girl, Maddie.

What brings you joy?

When a child tells me that they loved a book I have written. Even better when they tell me that they talked with their parents about how the story made them feel.

What do you love about this stage of your life?

Cultivating and embracing my quirkiness. I say use this to your full advantage. I am not saying to collect too many cats or to dismiss reality completely. Instead, let your creativity flow. Either by this point you know exactly what you want to do in life or you are thinking about it. Figure out how you want to spend your days on Earth and put the tiara on your head and begin doing it. It is your kingdom so play in it.

What's your favorite nonprofit?

The Sandbox. It's a charity that offers support to children with life-altering illnesses and their families. 

What’s your favorite restaurant for lunch?

My new favorite lunch spot is SouthBound on South Boulevard. It has a getaway feel. It is authentic California street food but served on tables with service. The open air layout of the restaurant relaxes the spirit. It makes me feel like I am eating delicious made-from-scratch fare on the Cali coast!

Where are your favorite places to travel?

One of my favorite cities to travel to is New York City. It is like no other. A blend of gritty sexiness and sophisticated culture, it just keeps on feeding my soul. The only thing missing is the beach. The beach is a magnificent creation. It provides a peaceful and dreamy feel and of course plenty of opportunities for happy hour cocktails surfside!

What are your wardrobe staples?

Boots! I love them! Suede are my absolute favorite.

What are some of your favorite pieces in your wardrobe?

I love my pair of Flying Monkey brand skinny jeans. They are buttery soft and win a Tony Award for how they make my curves sing! I buy them at Jordanos boutique. 

What’s your must treasured article of clothing?

My purple hooded sweatshirt. Because it is purple and it was created in memory of my late sister-in-law.  

Who has influenced your style the most?

Although she is not a fashion designer, Bobbi Brown, the founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. I remember when she launched her line of moderate and natural tones. I embraced her mantra of enhancing what you have contrary to concealing it. Which was not a mainstream idea at the time.

What are your must-have beauty products?

Vitamin C Oil from Beauty Counter. The smell, the feel of it...a sip from the fountain of youth for your skin with every drop.

What's your favorite flower?

I draw inspiration as an author from the botanical world. I love them all really. If I had to choose I could narrow it down to a category, wild flowers. They offer an authentic beauty fresh with color and shape in each bouquet. There is no bunch the same so the discovery is always exciting.

What are some of your favorite movies?

I love the classics: Gone with the WindThe Wizard of OzThe Sound of Music and To Kill a Mockingbird to name a few. They communicate value propositions that with the perfect selection of principal players easily endure the test of time. Homemade popcorn, diet Pepsi, a snuggly blanket and a dog companion are a must to complete my viewing experience.

What are some of your favorite books?

I am asked this question often. I used to read a book a month. Over the past two years when life changed, and I had the epiphany to begin writing, I feel like I am always reading. I read my own stories. I read them in my head and then after I have put pen to paper I am reading them again. I am a fan of Stephen King because his characters find themselves in precarious situations, often times battling evil in the world. Although it seems throughout the novel that they won’t find a way out, in the end they do. Good always prevails in his novels.

What’s your design style?

My personal design taste definitely falls into the contemporary category. With a smattering of this or that to make things interesting. Color and texture are like shiny objects that attract me like a bobbing fishing lure snags a fish. I just can’t stop staring at crystal accessories or petting the current trend of furry plush pillows.

What’s your most treasured home decor item?

My “eyelash” throw pillow. I discovered it a Pier 1 Imports. It is luscious!

Do you have a great organizational or timesaving tip that saves your sanity and helps make your life run more smoothly?

Set the coffee maker at night and drift off to sleep knowing that you can rely upon it to get you organized first thing in the morning.

What inspires you?

Late bloomers inspire me to be patient, to let my creativity flow like liquid energy. It is not that I don’t acknowledge and admire those that found their calling early in life. I do. But I'm inspired by people over 50 who discovered a whole lot of cool stuff about themselves at this time in their lives. 

Do you have a motto or words that you live by?

Rock on.

What’s in your glass during Happy Hour?

A Spanish white wine.

What’s on your Playlist?

Old-school rap.

Any words of wisdom?

No matter someone’s place in life, they have something of value to offer. So listen.

Is there anything you loved as a child that still influences you today?

My imagination.

What are your favorite colors? Purple because it is dreamy, red because it is passionate and silver because it is pure.

What’s your favorite indulgent snack?

Chocolate. The interesting variations of chocolate offer so many choices. The different chocolate offerings have been elevated to the level of wines and the world is better for it.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

I hope that my readers and their parents will remember me after I am gone as a writer that authentically created stories for their children. That I was genuine in my intent to create fictional characters and worlds that engaged their kids to use their own imaginations and believe in their own potential.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

My late father would remind me, “If you are not willing to make decisions then you will never fail. And then success will never come.”

 

 

 

 

Passionate Women's Rights supporter Jill Dinwiddie will receive the Paradigm Award on Sept. 26 during Dress For Success Charlotte's Ultimate Power Lunch. 

Passionate Women's Rights supporter Jill Dinwiddie will receive the Paradigm Award on Sept. 26 during Dress For Success Charlotte's Ultimate Power Lunch. 

Jill Dinwiddie believes strongly that people have to have a purpose in their life. When it comes to her own path, she has a history of being passionate about working on issues that improve the lives of women and families, which led her to an interest in Civil Rights and Reproductive Rights throughout her career. "I’m a firm believer that until we have more women in positions of power and influence, the opportunities for women and girls won’t be equal," she says.

A native of Detroit, Jill has held a variety of interesting positions over the years. Highlights are moving to California to become the deputy finance director for Dianne Feinstein's Senate campaign to being the director of the International Center at UNC Chapel Hill and board chair of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Jill with Cecile Richards and Sen. Dianne Feinstein at a Planned Parenthood National Conference.

Jill with Cecile Richards and Sen. Dianne Feinstein at a Planned Parenthood National Conference.

Her leadership abilities and success have won her numerous awards including Charlotte Woman of the Year in 2015 and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 1983. On September 26, she'll receive the Paradigm Award during Dress For Success Charlotte's annual Ultimate Power Lunch. 

What brings her the most joy is her large family, especially her husband of 26 years, Bernie Hargadon; her two daughters; her stepdaughter and three stepsons; and the 14 grandchildren she and Bernie have between them. 

In a Q&A with The O Report, she shared more of her favorite things - from the books she loves the most to her best timesaving tip and the beauty advice that's served her well. 

Where are your favorite places to travel?

The Bay Area of California is one. I’ve just returned from a trip there to visit friends, eat good food, drink good wine and savor the beauty of the area. One of my favorite trips was to the Galapagos and Equador while Bernie still had companies in Latin America.  Probably my most favorite city in the world is Paris and I just relived the memories of numerous trips there in the movie Paris Can Wait.  

What's your favorite hotel in the world?

The Bristol Hotel in Paris where we stayed while Bernie was still working for McKesson Corp. The Mayfair Hotel in London is special because we always ran into stars there like Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block.

What are your wardrobe staples? 

They’ve obviously changed as I’ve gotten older but I’ll always have a good black pant suit (Armani never goes out of style) and a basic black dress that can be paired with lots of jackets, sweaters, scarves, etc.

How would you describe your personal style?

I like bright colors and scarves but other than that it’s pretty traditional.

What are some of your favorite pieces in your wardrobe?

A bright colored Etro coat. Linda Lockman Brooks has the same coat and we both love ours. A recent swing blouse by Worth and a red dress by Lela Rose.

What are your favorite fashion labels?

Armani, Lafayette 148, Akris and Etro.

What’s your must treasured article of clothing?

Bed Head PJs.

What’s your most treasured accessory? 

Scarves and jewelry. 

Where are your favorite places to shop?

Neiman Marcus and Bossa Nova in Sonoma, California. 

What are your must-have beauty products?

Moisturizer, facial sunscreen, bronzer, blush, eye cream, eye liner, eye brow pencil and mascara.

How do you protect your skin from the sun?

Tinted ELTA MD skincare SPF 40

What are some of the best beauty tips you’ve learned?

A good diet and exercise plus 8 hours of sleep equals healthy skin.

Was there any beauty or style advice your mother or grandmother gave you that you’re thankful for now?

Stand up straight! Good posture will serve you well all your life.

How do you stay in shape? 

Yoga and walking.

Jill trekking in Peru. 

Jill trekking in Peru. 

What's your favorite restaurant for a big night out?  

The Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro, North Carolina and Bottega in Yountville, California.

What’s your favorite brunch spot?

Nolen Kitchen.

Any recent art purchases? 

A Mentori vase by Peter Callas from Elder Gallery.

What's your favorite flower?

Tulip. 

Any museum exhibits or arts performances you’ve either seen recently, or plan to see soon?

We took visitors from Colombia recently to the Jean Tinguely exhibit at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. We also enjoyed Jazz at the Bechtler and the Broadway Lights production of The King and I. We're looking forward to the Charlotte Symphony's new season.  

What are some of your favorite movies?

Shirley Valentine, The Help, Terms of Endearment, Fargo and Cinema Paradiso.

What are some of your favorite books?

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally Gregory McMillen; My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout; Saturday by Ian McEwan; Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell; Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America by Ellen Chesler; and A Game of Inches by Webster Hubbell.  

What's the biggest mistake people make when hosting a party?

Not paying attention to the details beginning with the guest list.

What's your favorite host/hostess gift to bring to a party?

Something from the Mint Museum Gift Shop like a small piece of pottery that’s really an egg separator. 

What’s your design style?

A mixture. We have Persian rugs and modern furniture that’s comfortable to sit in but looks contemporary.

What does every room need?

Good lighting.

What’s your most treasured home decor item?

Fresh flowers.

What brings you joy? 

My twin grandsons in Charlotte. We have 14 grandchildren between us and most of them live far and wide so we don’t get to see them much.

What do you love about this stage of your life? 

The freedom to pick and choose how I spend my time.

Do you have a great organizational or timesaving tip that saves your sanity and helps make your life run more smoothly?

I took a course at Carolina called The One Minute Manager where they stressed that you should only touch a piece of paper on your desk once.  I try to deal with something when it is presented instead of saving it for later for further deliberation.

What was one of the defining moments in your life?

Going as an exchange student at the age of 16 to live with a Muslim family in Istanbul, Turkey.

What are your favorite charitable causes?

Planned Parenthood, Dress for Success, Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Playing for Others, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage.

Who's your favorite famous person that you've met?

Madeleine Albright

What inspires you?

Nature – trees, flowers, birds – the beauty around me.

What would others be surprised to know about you? 

I have many acquaintances but only a few close friends.

Do you have a motto or words that you live by?

Treat everyone with respect.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

Read.

How do you like to get your day started?

Coffee and the New York Times.

What’s in your glass during Happy Hour?

Conundrum wine.

Any words of wisdom?

My father always said, "If you’re going to do something, do it right."

Is there anything you loved as a child that still influences you today?

Riding a bike although we gave ours to our grandsons when we sold our Kiawah property.

What's your favorite color?

Red.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Debits on the left; credits on the right! And to take risks! When a door opens to you, don’t be afraid to walk through it. 

What is the secret to your success? 

Not planning a career but taking advantage of new opportunities as they arose. Madeleine Albright said, “In life one thing leads to another.” That’s the story of my life also.