By Mike LaBella
HAVERHILL — Retired Haverhill High School French teacher Mary Peel knew all about Tom Bergeron's sense of humor. So it was no surprise when she opened her copy of "I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can! Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood," yesterday and read what her former student had written inside the front cover.
"I forgot all my French," it said.
"He was a good student, and he had a great sense of humor," said Peel, who was lucky enough to chat with her former student before the crowds were let in to yesterday's book signing at Northern Essex Community College.
Yesterday was one of Bergeron's last stops on a promotional tour that began in April with the release of "I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can!" In the book, the Haverhill native looks back on his life and career, from his beginnings as a 17-year-old disc jockey at a Haverhill radio station to his gig hosting the popular reality show "Dancing With The Stars."
"It's nice to wrap up the tour at home," Bergeron said. "You know, it's always nice to come back home to Haverhill, and it's particularly flattering to be greeted as warmly as I am when I do come back."
Bergeron's parents, Ray and Kay Bergeron, arrived early so they could spend some quiet time catching up on the latest news with their son.
"We wanted to be here when they give him the key to the city," Kay Bergeron said as her son prepared to accept the ceremonial key from Mayor James Fiorentini, who also presented him with an official proclamation declaring yesterday Tom Bergeron Day.
"Tom is our favorite son, and he's never forgotten the city," Fiorentini said after the presentation, while holding a copy of Bergeron's book.
Jean Poth, NECC's vice president of institutional advancement, beamed as Bergeron began signing copies of his book in the school's Technology Center.
When the book was released in April, Poth called him to ask if he would consider including the college as part of his promotional tour.
"I was thrilled when he said yes," she said. "I couldn't wait for him to arrive."
With Bergeron sitting behind a table inside the center's large conference room, a line of people that had formed along one wall began moving toward him. Everyone was holding one or more copies of his book, which they had just purchased at a table run by the college's bookstore.
Retired Haverhill High School English teacher Maureen White and retired guidance counselor Anne Jarzobski flipped through the pages of their copies.
"It's very nice that he's recognizing his roots," Jarzobski said as the line slowly inched forward.
Bob Wysocki, president of the Greater Haverhill Boys & Girls Club, carried two copies of Bergeron's book, one for him and one for his daughter.
"I really want to tell him thanks for the tickets he gave us for our first alumni celebration," Wysocki said, referring to the pair of VIP tickets to "Dancing With The Stars" that Bergeron donated to the club to be auctioned off to raise money during its alumni celebration in January.
Helen Batchelder, 77, of Haverhill, was thrilled to think she'd get to meet the man who has provided her with countless hours of television entertainment over the years.
"I've liked him ever since he was on 'Hollywood Squares,'" Batchelder said. "He's so down-to-earth."
With a large iced coffee in front of him, and gripping a blue marker, Bergeron autographed one copy of his book after another.
It didn't matter if he was greeting an old friend, a former teacher, or a stranger. Bergeron chatted, smiled, chatted some more and eagerly posed for photographs with anyone who asked.
He even offered career advice, telling people like Christine Roy of Merrimac, a college student majoring in broadcasting and journalism, to avail herself of every opportunity her school has to offer.
"His book has been incredibly helpful to me," the 19-year-old Roy said moments after Bergeron's pep talk.
Geraldine Bergeron, 72, of Amesbury, said she likes to claim Tom Bergeron as one of her family members, even though he isn't really related to her.
"He's absolutely charming — and he always is," she said as she left with three autographed copies of his book.
More than 150 people turned out for yesterday's book signing, which lasted about two hours. In the first hour alone, more than 130 copies of Bergeron's book had been sold and autographed.
He said he hasn't been keeping track of how many copies have been sold overall, and his publisher, HarperCollins, does not give out sales figures.
"I have no idea as I've been so focused on promoting it," Bergeron said. "The publisher hasn't asked for their advance back, so that's always a good sign."
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