Atlanta TV host turns hurt, humiliation into 'Left at the Altar' book

Last summer, Kimberley Kennedy's friends warned her away from seeing the "Sex and the City" movie. The gal pals thought seeing "Sex" heroine Carrie Bradshaw jilted on her wedding day might be too much their friend.

But Kennedy, WSB-TV's "Hot Topics" anchor, went anyway.

"The movie really got it right," she said over lunch at Ted's Montana Grill. "The screaming, the gnashing of teeth, the fetal position crying in the hotel room? That was me."

Kennedy takes a nibble of salad, waits a beat and adds with a laugh: "Except my dress wasn't as nice!"

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Even Hollywood scriptwriters would have difficulty conjuring up a plot as devastating as what Kennedy lived through in the spring of 1997.

At her wedding rehearsal to local radio exec Lew Dickey inside Atlanta's St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the TV journalist was quietly pulled into the priest's office. There, she said, a distraught Dickey relayed five words to her: "I just can't do it."

In her new book, "Left at the Altar" (Thomas Nelson, $14.99), Kennedy writes: "I remember looking over at the priest, who clearly had never encountered this kind of thing before, standing there in nearly as much shock as I was, hoping she would have the words to fix this, but all she could do was look back at me with this profound sadness."

The book officially hits stores Tuesday (some copies already have snuck onto retail shelves in time for Valentine's Day). "Altar" is equal parts memoir, horror story and survival guide for anyone grappling with rejection.

"I couldn't have written this even a few years ago," Kennedy said. "It was a process. There wasn't a book out there like this for me. That's why I wrote it. I'm a big believer in the power of sharing our stories."

Even if they prove as harrowing as Kennedy's.

By that following Monday morning in 1997, the breakup of the high-profile media couple was already a topic of conversation on Steve McCoy and Vikki Locke's morning show. Locke, a close friend of the bride, was outraged and concerned for Kennedy.

"I'll never forget getting that phone call from her sister," Locke recalls. "I ached for her."

WSB-AM's Neal Boortz also discussed the break-up on air, and it became ongoing fodder for the AJC's Peach Buzz column.

Then Kennedy's story went national on "Good Morning America" and "Primetime Live."

But aside from the humiliation, Kennedy said, the media coverage taught her how universal a topic rejection is.

"I had to learn how not to allow the rejection to ultimately define me," she said. "I also had to figure out how to get out of the bed and continue on with my life."

For many, one of the most startling admissions in "Left at the Altar" is that Kennedy never allowed herself to hate her former fiancé.

"I never felt that," she said. "I've never been able to figure out how you can go from loving someone to hating them. But it drove my friends crazy. I just wanted him back. Now that I say that out loud, I realize that is just pitiful!"

Another bombshell in the book?

Ten days after he dumped her, she wrote, Dickey sent a FedEx letter to her home in hopes of reconciling.

And she took him back.

Kennedy says now that the fear of being alone prompted the decision. The reunion didn't last. Last month, Kennedy had to make a series of phone calls when galleys of "Altar" began floating around.

"Only my mother ever knew," she said. "It wasn't originally in the book. My agent persuaded me to write about it. I realized I had to tell it all. What I did is a very common thing. A lot of women take the men back."

Kennedy said she knew she could finally write about her experiences after a fateful encounter with Dickey at OK Café after church one Sunday a few years back.

"It was so weird," she recalled. "We were two people about to be married and we were acting like casual acquaintances. But seeing him again was so freeing. I realized I no longer felt the same way. I was finally over him. I was so happy!"

This month, Kennedy will be back on "GMA" and on McCoy and Locke's B98.5 morning show, this time to promote the release of "Left at the Altar."

Locke already has read an advance copy of the book.

"She's whole again," Locke said. "And what I love most about the book is that it tells people that it's OK to be single. You can be happy and whole and single. That's a great message for people to hear on Valentine's Day."

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