Diane Allen, the popular Philly TV journalist turned popular South Jersey politician, has been in the public eye since the 1970s -- long enough for generations of local residents to get to know and like her.
But Allen, 68, is even more engaging in person, as I discovered during our free-flowing conversation last week about Chris Christie, Donald Trump, the media, politics, her careers -- and her reluctant decision to retire from the New Jersey Senate, come January.
"A number of health issues have put some limits on me," said Allen, who beat an aggressive oral cancer seven years ago. "I think I can do more than I can, and then my husband reminds me."
She politely demurred when I asked her to elaborate on her current health issues.
"I realized that if I wanted to accomplish what I'm trying to do in the Senate, I wasn't going to have the energy to run again at the same time," added the Burlington County Republican, who's known for being a class act with lots of charm and plenty of backbone.
This is, after all, a woman who gave up competitive hang-gliding only after she became pregnant with her first child. Earlier, Allen had been captain of the swim team and valedictorian at Moorestown High School (Class of '66).
"I was 12 when I graduated," she said, in one of several wry asides offered during our chat at her busy Seventh District office on Route 130 in Cinnaminson.
A mother of two and grandmother of four, Allen has served six terms in the Senate and one term in the Assembly. She lives along the Delaware River in Edgewater Park with businessman Sam Allen, her husband of almost 45 years, and is a fierce fiscal conservative, a moderate on many social and environmental issues, and a champion of pay equity for women.
Many of her legislative accomplishments focus on family matters, such as a recently enacted measure providing adoptees with access to their original birth and medical records.
"I often work across the aisle. I'm one of a dying breed," said Allen, citing her collaborations with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), among other legislators.
("I have enormous respect for her on a personal as well as political and legislative levels," Weinberg told me, adding that Allen's constituents "are going to miss her in the Legislature, as are people who are particularly interested in women's issues. And on a very personal level, I'm going to miss her in the legislature, too.")
"When I first got into [politics], there seemed to be more camaraderie across the aisle than there is now," Allen continued. "People spent more time together. They'd have lunch together. They don't do that now.
"But if you know someone on the other side, you can call them. You can talk to them."
A longtime Quaker, Allen said she would rather try to compromise with than annihilate a political opponent, including those within her own party.
She has had differences with the GOP organization in Burlington County; for the last decade, she has raised campaign money without its help.
"But after living through my cancer," she said, "I came to realize that differences need not get in the way of relationships."
About individual politicians with whom she also has disagreed, such as Christie, Allen was similarly diplomatic. "Chris has done a lot of good things, and he gets a bad rap sometimes," she said.
(In a statement his office issued after Allen announced her retirement, the governor described her as "one of the most courageous women and most devoted public servants I have ever known. She is a role model for my daughters and should be for any woman seeking to make a positive impact in this world.")
About Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who hopes to succeed Christie -- and with whom Allen once was in competition to be selected as his running mate -- the senator from western Burlington County was downright exuberant.
"I love her," Allen said. "She's dynamite. I'm raising money for her. ... I spent the morning dialing for dollars for Kim Guadagno."
As for the new president, Allen noted that Trump can make "heads explode on both sides" of the aisle.
"There are things he does that drive me crazy. Could someone take his phone away from him at night, please? But I understand half the people in this country voted for significant change. And they're getting it.
"I also understand the other half are angry, and can't accept it, and are trying to undermine" the president, Allen added. "There's a left-wing anger thing; I don't think I could be part of a right-wing anger thing."
A veteran newscaster and anchorwoman who successfully challenged what she contended were discriminatory practices at CBS, Allen said she is concerned at how much "opinion" has infiltrated news coverage, on TV as well as in print. But she also said she has been "covered fairly," particularly by local media.
And while she described politics as getting "stranger and stranger," she insisted it is still possible "to work together and get things done."
As for "my third act," Allen said it will certainly involve "ample time" with family. She's had conversations with several people about what she calls "interesting opportunities," and might write a book of commentary about the political process.
Long active in organizations such as the National Foundation for Women Legislators, she also plans to continue with speaking engagements around the country.
"There are a lot of possibilities," Allen said. "I'm excited about that."