August 16, 2004

Making a Difference: Two Departed Heroes

"I'm just a regular person. There's no such thing as calling someone an extraordinary person. I don't care who they are. People have talents, but that doesn't make them extraordinary. Saints, great men, you name anybody--Gandi, Martin Luther King, Chico Mendes--all these people are ordinary people. They had flaws, they had problems. Some of them had vices. Like, they couldn't live without their coffee or their cigarettes, their cigars or their drink, but they still made a contribution. We have to stop the idea that you have to be perfect in order to make a contribution. You don't have to. You can be full of flaws. You can be an ordinary person, and you can make a difference, and that's what we have to understand. There's no such thing as an extraordinary person, only extraordinary deeds, because they made the commitment, in spite of their flaws. I believe that, rather than putting all these great people out there and saying: "I'm not like that, and I'll never be able to make a contribution." That's what keeps us paralyzed and not making a contribution."

--Raul Julia (1940-1994)
Actor, activist in the World Hunger Project

Obituary, Joe Dominguez, Age 56

Joe Dominguez co-author of Your Money or Your Life (Viking, 1992), died of cancer on January 11, 1997. He was a pioneer in the Voluntary Simplicity movement that urged people to consume less and focus on things that were more important than material possessions. A warm, comical man, Mr. Dominguez acted as a living example of the frugality he espoused. After growing up in Harlem, he went on to earn a plump salary as a Wall Street analyst, but retired at age 31 with a savings of about $100,000. For the rest of his life he lived on the interest, about $6000 a year. He avoided buying on credit, he bargain-hunted and he bought only what he truly needed. He devoted his time to a foundation he established and to public service. Practical to the end, he made cards for friends and loved ones two days before he died that read: "Joe Dominguez has been given a clean bill of death. Please direct your attention to the living and to the things that need to be done."

Thank you, Joe. What you did with your life will survive you for many years to come.

Excerpted from a New York Times obituary by Carey Goldberg.

Oseola McCarty -- Self-Promotion

Oseola McCarty, age 88, gave herself a promotion--from laundrywoman to philanthropist. She did this by giving $150,000--the bulk of her life savings--to charity. You may wonder how a laundrywoman saves $150,000. When she was a child, she dreamed of becoming a nurse. But she had to leave school after the sixth grade to care for a sick aunt and she never returned. Instead she took in laundry, initially charging $1.50 a bundle, then raising her price as time went on. When she had a little extra money, she saved it. She lived a very frugal life, walking everywhere rather than buying a car and using a black and white TV with only one working channel. Oh well, she didn't watch much TV anyway. She opened a savings account in First Mississippi National Bank. It grew with a little money her mother, aunt and grandmother left her when they died. The bank merged and changed names and McCarty expanded her investments to CD's and a few conservative mutual funds. By the time she was in her 80's, she had built up a nice little nest egg. She decided to give it away.

"I wanted to give it to the college. They used to not let colored people go out there, but now they do, and I think they should have it�.I just want the scholarship to go to some child who needs it. I'm too old to get an education, but they can."

So McCarty, who never married or had children, gave the University of Southern Mississippi $150,000 which, in turn, inspired them to organize a matching fund-raising drive that led to more than $200,000 in donations from across the country.

McCarty received a lot of attention including an honorary degree from Harvard and a Presidential Citizen's medal awarded at a White House ceremony. She wrote a book, Oseola McCarty's Simple Wisdom for Rich Living (Longstreet Press). In her book she says, "There's a lot of talk about self-esteem these days. It seems pretty basic to me. If you want to feel proud of yourself, you've got to do things you can be proud of. Feelings follow actions."

That seems true enough.

Her actions = hard work and giving to others.

Our feelings = admiration and respect.

Oseola McCarty died on September 26, 1999 after a bout with cancer. Her memory and life remain alive to inspire us.

Thanks, Ms. McCarty.

Posted on August 16, 2004 9:26 PM
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