Gifts from grass-roots heroes | Nandell Palmer

To hear people speak from the heart, just attend a funeral service or a wedding reception. Some of those speakers oftentimes need to be cured of the dreaded “foot-in-mouth disease.” But every once in a while, there are some priceless nuggets to be gained.

I attended a memorial service for a noted Seattle surgeon not long ago. I was moved by what speakers had to say about him. Nobody lauded his opulent lifestyle. The theme of this man’s legacy was that he made a difference in people’s lives.

When a young divorced mother of three was going through hard times, the benevolent doctor asked that the woman and her children come to his home for dinner daily. He gave her children weekly allowances, too.

Even the family cat defected and took up residence at the doctor’s home. The woman could not compete with her pet’s newfound taste in shrimp pâté and other feline delicacies.

The doctor also sought out cash-strapped college students who were stuck on Top Ramen noodles, and wined and dined them at expensive restaurants.

As I grow older, I have come to realize that many times the small deeds done in communities have a way of impacting cities, countries and even the world. Take, for example, Oseola McCarty, a washerwoman born in Marion County, Miss.

As a young girl, McCarty dreamed of becoming a nurse. When her aunt and grandmother became ill, however, the schoolgirl had to leave the sixth grade to care for them.

Coming from a line of washerwomen, McCarty saw no other outlet to make a meaningful livelihood than to follow in their footsteps — a job she did for more than 70 years.

Reaching the ripe age of 88, the unmarried woman who never pursued her desire of becoming a nurse, shocked the world in 1995 when she made a gift of $150,000 (a large portion of her life savings) to the University of Southern Mississippi to help needy students pursue their degrees.

McCarty sought no monuments or proclamations from the powers that be. “I’m giving this money away so that the children won’t have to work so hard like I did,” the big-hearted woman said when pressed about her largesse.

This woman’s example is living proof that one does not need to be super rich to exercise a heart of giving. Each person can make a difference. The end result is that both givers and recipients reap rich rewards.

Could one washerwoman’s monetary gift be the catalyst for spurring Bill Gates and Warren Buffett into action with their global initiative in changing lives? One may never know.

From McCarty’s simple and frugal lifestyle, she was able to impress the world with her kind deed. Media mogul Ted Turner was so moved by this selfless act that he later gave away $1 billion to the U.N. College endowments grew exponentially.

I recently helped a high school student with college prep work. And to show his appreciation, he sent me a thank you note via email and a YouTube link with a beautiful piece of music. Two packets of Asian rice cakes would soon follow.

Now I can honestly feel what the late Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about when a mother in Poland paid her with dirt for saving the last of her 12 children. The doctor would treasure that piece of dirt for decades.

That is the essence of “I Celebrate You.” It is my wish that individuals will think about these qualities in others when they decide to honor someone for what she does.

The estimable FUSION charity founder Peggy LaPorte, this year’s keynote speaker, will highlight the hallmarks of community service at its best. LaPorte will be among the event’s glib speakers of yesteryear: Dan Shea and Kevin Ikeda.

While this year’s honorees will perhaps never receive scores of awards and other honors from renowned institutions like McCarty, their lifeworks are a living testament to our community. That’s why they are our unsung heroes.

Check it out

Write a Blessing Media will present its third annual “I Celebrate You” at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at Our Saviors Baptist Church, 701 S. 320th St., Federal Way. The event is free and open to the public. Succulent food, giveaways, lively entertainment and motivational speeches will highlight the evening. The event is a way for the community to say a public thank you to its unsung heroes. Nominate that special someone today. For more information, contact Nandell Palmer at (206) 327-2228 or email palmern777@aol.com.

Federal Way resident Nandell Palmer is president of Write A Blessing Media, a document production company. A business journalist for 20 years, he teaches writing and proofreading to corporate and private clients. Contact: palmern777@aol.com.


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