“When bad things happen, we all dream of rewinding the tape…but we can’t so we do the only thing we can: we take those bad things and turn them into situations we can learn from. It’s human nature to try to pan for gold, to find a positive slant in something so negative because anything less would feel like defeat.” Lee Woodruff, Perfectly Imperfect
Lee Woodruff dropped into my life unexpectedly. We were both speakers at an event raising funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Within minutes of meeting her, we were sharing stories, laughing, and exchanging email addresses. Some people have that incredible gift to connect with people in an authentic way that makes you feel you’ve known them all your life.
If you were to read only about Lee’s successes, you would think she never had a problem in the world:
Contributing editor for CBS This Morning
Author of three books
Mother of four beautiful children
Married to one of the world’s top journalists
Author of numerous articles published in magazines such as Redbook, Prevention, Country Living and Health
Co-founder of a foundation to help wounded servicemen
We so often read about people who are wildly successful, and think they are somehow different. In some way, the world only showers good things on them.
That’s not the case with Lee. We all remember when her husband, talented news anchor Bob Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. Only a month after succeeding Peter Jennings at ABC, it changed the Woodruff’s lives.
Two weeks ago, I shared an interview that I did with legendary CBS anchor Dan Rather backstage before our onstage discussion. Today’s post features the onstage interview. Onstage we talked about a number of subjects ranging from the personal to the historical. If you have the time to view it in its entirety, I’m sure you will enjoy it. Because it is just over thirty minutes and you may not have the time to view it all, I decided to write the subjects we discussed with the approximate time.
If you only tune in for one subject, I suggest you watch Dan Rather give his perspective on Civil Rights, Dr. Martin Luther King and how it impacted his life. Here are a few highlights from that conversation:
“I find as a nation, as a people, as a society, we have a certain amount of amnesia. Amnesia about what the reality of the civil rights situation was particularly for people of color….Covering Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement changed me as a person and as a pro….I grew up in a segregated society…if I’m this afraid…what must it be like to be of color and know this is happening down the street?”
Dan Rather understandably became very emotional as he recalled those events. “To see people in power in city government turn high pressure fire hoses loose on children…I would not have believed people could do this, turn firehoses and vicious dogs on women and children.” 15:18
A single moment can change your life. A single decision can have a lasting impact. A single relationship can define you in ways you would never expect.
That single moment happened in Laura Schroff’s life over 25 years ago. She was a successful advertising executive living in Manhattan. Her life was full and her schedule even more so.
Crossing 56th street one day, she heard a panhandler’s voice. “Excuse me, lady, I’m really hungry. Do you have any spare change?” She dismissed the request, moving quickly through the intersection.
Somewhere in the middle of the intersection is where that moment happened for Laura. That decision. Where the relationship started. Laura stopped, turned around and went back to meet the panhandler. His name was Maurice, and he was only 11 years old. She said she didn’t want to give him money, but she would buy him some food at McDonald’s.
For many, that would be it. A single act of goodwill. Not for Laura and Maurice. The one meal became a weekly dinner for years. Their relationship has continued to grow over the past twenty-five years.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Rather on stage in New York. It was a surreal moment for me. After all, I grew up watching the network news trio of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. I had watched Dan Rather interview world leaders. Tough interviews. Now I would be interviewing him about his life, which he has chronicled in Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, a book I couldn’t put down. And that’s a good thing because I read it several times along with everything else I could about Dan Rather before our interview. I always prepare, but I definitely stepped it up knowing I was interviewing one of the world’s most prominent news anchors.
Years ago, I had casually met him once before in a hotel in Dallas. He was covering a story, and I was attending a Board meeting. I found myself in the elevator with the news legend. We only spoke a few words and we were both off running in different directions. I recalled his personal warmth but also could sense his intensity.
Before our on stage interview, we were to meet in the little green room backstage. I was waiting when I heard his trademark baritone voice through the curtain. He was very personable, humble and focused on everyone else. At 80, he is as sharp as ever. We started talking and I wish I had every minute on tape. His firsthand account of modern history is riveting. I asked him if we could sit down and turn on the camera for a few minutes before we jumped on stage. He agreed.
Dan Rather worked for CBS for 44 years and anchored the CBS Evening News for 24 of those years. At the same time, he appeared on 48 Hours and 60 Minutes II. He currently anchors Dan Rather Reports on AXS TV. Dan Rather has won numerous Emmy Awards for broadcast journalism and the Peabody Award.
In this backstage eleven-minute interview, we talked about the story that had the biggest impact on him, whether work-life balance was possible, how having rheumatic fever as a child shaped him, and finally his views on journalism today.
I started our talk with the discussion on the subject of leadership. Having personally known so many presidents and world leaders, what would Dan Rather say were the characteristics of a leader?