How we see ourselves and behave is, in large part, a function of our connection with those people we chose as role models along the way.
Some are intimate and known only to a few: parents, spouses, a few coaches and a maybe a good boss. Others are public, known to us all, and whose charisma captures so many that it affects a country’s collective self concept and our behaviors.
Hitler and hate. Roosevelt and hope. Elvis and sideburns.
Now, there’s Donald and you fill in the blanks.
We have an incoming president whose public values and personal behavior might possibly get by in business but model nothing that we want from our children. Even one of his strongest supporters told me last week that he wants him for president, but would not have him for dinner or want him in his club.
So, nationally and locally, this makes it more important than ever to find, to focus and to celebrate those good people who model good work and good grace. Voilà! We have two great examples in lives made more abundant by more years of living that are almost certainly a result of the abundance of rigorous work they continue to invest in them: Tony and Bill.
Tony Bennett is celebrating his 90th birthday by touring as a singer! He brings us joy as he experiences it. As a working singer, he joyfully embraces the rigors of the road to do what he loves so much that he does it better than anyone else. And he is a gifted painter who still takes lessons.
He has also triumphed over the adversity of personal crises, a model of comebacks. His long and glorious career was not always easy. Yet, then and now, still every day, his love of his craft embraced work habits that include daily voice exercises, a discipline that became legend among those who work with him.
Most important to us, Tony’s public manners are a model of civility and grace. Those attending his performance at the opening of Carolina Performing Arts in Memorial Hall saw his rich tributes to those whose artistry and commitment built it. When he abandoned his microphone to belt out a ballad and show off the auditorium’s acoustics, there was not a dry eye in the house.
Now, on his “90th Birthday Tour,” he is a national icon still working to improve his work, even as he revels in the love affair with his audiences.
If Tony continues at this rate, he may someday be in the league of Chapel Hill’s own Dr. William Leuchtenburg. Bill’s writing that reflect extraordinary command of U. S. presidential history belongs to the world.
Yet, he and Jean Anne are as local as Franklin Street, to which Bill would likely immediately reply, “I remember when they built that road!” Then, he would wink.
Bill Leuchtenburg is now 94 years old. He’s the model for Tony Bennett!
He has published more than a dozen books on American history, widely acclaimed and honored. He has written many dozens of scholarly articles and contributions to the books and projects of others. He was a contributor to Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary who never misses spring practice in Florida.
Bill seems to be everywhere. He has appeared on all manner of national stages for much of the last century. Now, even as he is finishing a tour to promote his most recent book, “The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton,” those of the 20th century, he is now writing his next one on 19th century presidents! He gives pep talks to the Energizer bunny.
And while many of us were wringing our hands over the coarseness of the national political debate and were stunned at the national election outcome, Bill, a lifelong Democrat, just smiled and said, “Well, that’s history.”
And for him, it is something new to research, to write about, and to inspire us with his commitment to his work and the optimism he exudes.
So, when you’re down and troubled, we have helping hands in Tony and Bill. Thank heavens for these two model nonagenarians who continue to ply and polish their craft, always doing and growing, and always with generosity to others, to remind us that, if we keep our heads high, we, too, might grow up like them and this, too, will pass.
I’ll take that model!