Two famous men who were humble
By Frederick Mordi
A wealthy white woman once wanted someone to chop wood for her and apparently having no one to do the job, she approached a man who was strolling by. She asked him if he would like to earn some money cutting wood for her.
The man smiled. Without a word, he rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to carry out the task. When he finished chopping the wood, he arranged them neatly. The lady thanked him profusely. As soon as he left, a servant girl whispered into her ear.
The next morning she was at his office, full of apologies.
“I didn’t know it was you I put to work,” she said, thoroughly embarrassed.
“It’s perfectly all right, madam,” the man famously replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labour. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.”
Soon after that incident, the appreciative woman reciprocated the kind gesture by persuading her rich friends to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the man that happened to be a prominent black educator named Booker T. Washington.
Washington, who later founded the renowned Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was born a slave. But he rose above his circumstances and become famous. He was one of the most popular African-American leaders of his era, well-known for his political savvy and talent for fund-raising. He was also adviser to two American Presidents. A great man by any standard, Washington was nevertheless an epitome of humility as he demonstrated in the story.
He proved the truth in a quote attributed to Simone Weil, who once said: “A lever. We lower when we want to lift. In the same way, he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The second story below also illustrates the beauty of humility. As the story was told, a certain lady once entered an ice cream store in Kansas. After picking her cone, she looked up and found herself facing one of the most celebrated movie stars in America. She almost fell over. It is not every day one meets a popular Hollywood actor.
The handsome actor smiled sweetly at her and said hello.
But the clearly mesmerised woman could hardly speak. Her eyes grew round in surprise, while her heart hammered against her ribs. She hurriedly paid for her ice-cream and left the shop, only to realise that it was not in her possession. She went back to the shop and again ran into the actor, who was on his way out.
“Are you looking for your ice cream?” he asked kindly.
The lady nodded. She did not trust herself to speak.
“You put it in your purse with your change.”
Meeting celebrities often triggers this sort of reaction. However, only few celebrities would have had the time to talk to the lady in such a relaxed manner like Paul Newman did.
Apart from being a prolific actor, film director, entrepreneur, and racing driver, chalking up numerous awards including an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in the 1986 Martin Scorsese film The Color of Money, six Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an Emmy Award, Newman was known for his humility and philanthropy. Typical of Newman, when asked by a television interviewer how he felt winning an Oscar at 62, he quipped that it deprived him of his fantasy of picking the award in ripe old age.
Newman’s Own, a food company, which he co-founded, as a matter of policy, donates its post-tax profits and royalties to charity. As at last year, these donations had exceeded $380million. He was also one of the founders of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), a membership organisation of CEOs committed to raising the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy. Givingback.org named Newman the ‘Most Generous Celebrity of 2008.’
An Italian newspaper, which once commented on his philanthropy said “Newman was a generous heart, an actor of a dignity and style rare in Hollywood quarters.”
Washington and Newman have shown that one can be great and yet humble. John Ruskin appears to share this view when he said: “I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”