Extraordinary Lives

This being the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I’m thinking of my friend Herman. (Actually, I think of Herman quite often, since he’s one of a small group of attorneys I eat lunch with several times a week). Herman’s 84 now, and still practicing part-time. And man, has this guy seen some history. In 1963, he was a schoolteacher, teaching in an all-black school in St. Louis. After his daughter discovered she couldn’t enter the segregated amusement park in town, Herman joined up with CORE, The Congress For Racial Equality. When St. Louis’ Jefferson bank fired all its black tellers, CORE picketed the place. Herman was one of the 19 protesters arrested. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and did about two weeks of it before a team of volunteer lawyers, both black and white, got the sentence overturned. After that, he became interested in the law, but he hesitated to leave his safe job. When he met Dr. King at a CORE conference in Miami, though, the great man put things in perspective. “Young man,” he told Herman, “I get death threats and threats against my family nearly every day. You don’t know what fear IS.” That settled it. Herman finished law school and has been going strong ever since. Recently, he attended the 50 year anniversary of the Jefferson Bank March, which was one of the turning points in overcoming segregation in St. Louis.

A few nights ago, my wife and I had dinner with my mom at the retirement community where she lives. We were joined by a fascinating gentleman named Mohsin and his wife. Born to a well-to-do family in Northern India, he served in the RAF in Asia in World War II, after which he became the diplomatic reporter for Reuters for 30 years, covering the Korean, Vietnamese, and Cambodian peace negotiations, nuclear non-proliferation and test ban talks, and a host of other historic events. When he retired from Reuters, the Queen made him an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Mohsin’s wife is equally extraordinary; she was a scientist with the EPA when female scientists were rare. While at dinner, Mohsin loaned me a copy of E.M. Forster’s  classic novel A PASSAGE TO INDIA–which is dedicated to Mohsin’s uncle. The copy Mohsin loaned me has a picture of him with Forster, who was his guardian when he came to England.

So what’s the point of this? Just that wherever you are, there are people all around you with fascinating stories to tell, people who have seen and done amazing things. As storytellers and lovers of great stories, we owe it to them and to ourselves to find them and let those stories be told.

So who are some of the extraordinary people YOU know? Tell us their stories.

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