Continuing our education as JAM Views members, I want to, once again, highlight the lives and characteristics of some interesting people who turned off the TV and put down the potato chips. As children, and as adults, we learn most from observing and experiencing others. If we study those who have lived great adventures, we can expand our own fishbowls, our own realm of possibilities, and the Wall Street Journal obituaries section is a worthy archive for studying what may be possible. Remember, JAM Views members want to lead lives of significance, whatever that term may mean for each of us individually.
Dr. James Gips and a couple colleagues developed the technology to control a computer cursor by moving the eyes, but he didn't realize the potential impact until one mother begged him every day to test this technique on Michael, her paralyzed son. Michael quickly utilized the technology to communicate, create art and play games, even graduating from public high school in 2002. Dr. Gips spent the remaining years of his life refining this breakthrough which has enabled so many more people to escape locked-in lives. He began his next discovery last June at age 72.
Robert Danzig from the age of two was shuttled from one foster home to the next. At age 17, he was hired as an office clerk by the Albany Times Union newspaper and soon proved a star advertising salesman, even working his way up the ladder to be appointed Publisher at age 37. Eight years later, he was promoted to head the entire newspaper division at Hearst Corp. in New York. He later became an author of books on leadership and self-confidence and a motivational speaker. He credits much of his success to a social worker who, when Robert was 10, looked him in the eyes and said, "You are worthwhile." He claimed those words were a revelation and wrote, "I held onto them like a lifeline." He received his last promotion in August at age 85.
H.A. "Hap" Wagner was quarterback of his high school football team, captain of the Stanford University basketball team, and an Air Force officer before earning his Harvard MBA while married with three children. He joined Air Products & Chemicals in Allentown, Pa., and worked his way through research, sales and management, eventually being elevated to CEO. He expanded the company in Spain, China, and India before retiring in 1999, and was well-known for reciting, "If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes!" Mr. Wagner took on his next challenge last July at age 82.
Stan Brock quit school in England at 16 and found work in British Guiana on the northern coast of South America. He worked on cattle ranches and created his own backyard menagerie which included jaguars, ocelots, and tapirs. His writings of this adventure were published in books and magazines, and earned him an offer to co-host "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" alongside Marlin Perkins. Yet, his awareness of the lack of medical care for people in remote places compelled him to found Remote Area Medical (RAM) which has cared for 740,000 people in a dozen countries over the last 33 years. He did hundreds of sit-ups and chin-ups daily, always wore his khaki bush outfits, and retained his British accent and dashing looks in old age. Having given up most belongings, he slept on a grass mat next to his desk at RAM's office, and began his next adventure in August at age 82.
Gerry Lenfest worked as a farm hand in Iowa, an oil-field roughneck in North Dakota, and as a mate on an oil tanker while earning his economics and law degrees. He joined Triangle Publications and eventually took charge of Seventeen Magazine. When the company decided to sell a tiny cable business in Lebanon, Pa., he and his wife leveraged everything and bought the company for $2.3 million in 1974, running the business from their home. They grew it to 1.3 million customers before it was acquired by Comcast in 2000 for $5.6 billion. After becoming billionaires, they continued living in their three-bedroom home which they purchased in 1966 for $35,000. But, their mission has been to give away their vast fortune in their lifetimes rather than create a foundation whose trustees later may stray from their vision. Gerry continued to ride city buses and fly coach, because people there were more open to conversation. Wendy Kopp was riding the train to New York and was slightly perturbed by the chatty old man seated next to her, but she eventually opened up about the charity she founded to send teachers to work in low-income areas. Chatty Gerry moved onto nicer transportation in August at the age of 88, but not before donating $14 million to Wendy Kopp's Teach for America.
These amazing stories show us that we all are capable of great adventures, if we only follow our dreams, lean into our fears, and choose "Yes." These people were not smarter or stronger than us, and they were not handed an exciting life on a silver platter. They took risks, they made choices, and they followed their passions. What are you going to do about yours today?
"Success listens only to applause. To all else it is deaf." - Elias Canetti