Editor’s Note: On Sundays, The Herald-Mail publishes “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series looks back – through the eyes of family, friends, colleagues and others – on a recently deceased member of the community. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Tori Anderson, who died on June 19 at the age of 63.
Tori Anderson had a way of connecting with people as a radio DJ and country music performer, and it carried over into her public battle with a rare connective tissue disorder.
The singer, known for her band Tori Anderson and Possum Holler, was exposed to music early in her church life while growing up in Hancock. She sang gospel music with her parents in a band called The Singing Ambassadors and met her husband, Michael, when the two were in a band known as Friends and Spirit.
Michael, her husband of 36 years, accompanied Tori on guitar and they formed the band White Raven.
Tori’s daughter, Kayla Byrne, remembers her mother’s early days in radio in the 1990s. Tori’s name was Vicki Marie Shaw-Anderson. When she worked at a station in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., she was one of two women named Vicki who worked there. To distinguish them, the station owner called the singer Tori, and the nickname stuck.
Tori started working at 104.7 WAYZ in Greencastle, Pennsylvania in 1996, honing a radio personality that is still talked about on the country station today. As host of the station’s noon show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tori hosted the High Noon Saloon’s Request Hour with Tori.
She became known for her upbeat, witty style, and listeners charged the phone line in response, according to Dan Michaels, one of the station’s current DJs who plays Tiny on the air.
Michaels said he’s never seen a DJ at the station take as many calls as Tori, and she made each of the people feel like they were the center of attention.
Building the following that Tori typically had takes decades to grow, Michaels said.
“Tori did it in a few years,” he said.
At some point, Tori noticed something unusual about her body. When she raised her arm above her head, her skin felt like it was tearing. She recalled an ABC TV movie about a 42-year-old man who died after a five-year battle with scleroderma, a rare connective tissue disease that has the same symptoms. There is no remedy.
Tori was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2008, and was also told she had a less common systemic type that attacks internal organs.
In 2013, Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland wrote about Tori’s battle with the disease, asking readers to imagine trying to bend your elbows or tie your shoes when your skin feels like a stiff plastic mat.
Rowland imagined the struggle Tori must have felt at times trying to get up in the morning to leave her Hancock home for the drive to Greencastle radio station.
“It becomes a test of will: Tori on one side, scleroderma on the other,” Rowland wrote.
Swearing to ‘go out on a high’
Tori took it in her usual positive style, avoiding medication to manage the pain.
“I knew I’d rather go out on a high than have people say, ‘Oh, that poor little thing,'” she said at the time.
Michaels and former WAYZ DJ Katy Dickinson recently remembered Tori in a podcast program the station produces weekly and posts on its website and YouTube channel.
Dickinson thought about what Tori had to live with the disease, while working at the station and taking calls from listeners. But Dickinson described how Tori was able to “put that in the back of her brain and focus on what you were talking about”.
The station’s noon request hour is now called Tunes at Noon, but Michaels said in the podcast that the hour was renamed High Noon Saloon Request Hour with Tori on June 21 in his honor. He also played some of Tori’s favorite songs that day, as well as some of her music.
He said on the podcast that some listeners might not know Tori since she hadn’t been on the station in nine years, and he talked more about what makes her special.
“You would just have to be around Tori for a minute and you would have a complete idea of who she was, how she made you feel,” Michaels said. She could make a difference, even if someone was having the worst day, he said.
Tori finally had to give up work in 2013 and she stopped singing around 2011.
Walk with Tori
But then the audience saw a new side to Tori – her public battle with scleroderma. In order to raise funds for research against the disease, Tori organized walks with Tori in the Doubs Woods park in Hagerstown.
She raised tens of thousands of dollars on the walks and donated money to the University of Pittsburgh Scleroderma Center where she was treated.
Kayla said her mother gained her strong spirit through a close relationship with God. While coping with illness, Tori enjoyed sitting on the porch of her home in Hancock, reading the Bible and listening to the birds.
Tori’s obituary recalled her “Sunday sermons”, which she wrote and posted on social media to share with her followers.
“I just think of her remarkable strength. It’s the only thing that comes to mind when I remember her. Even (during) the most difficult times,” Kayla said.
Tori is also survived by two other children, Dustin and Summer.