Did you feel what I felt last week?
I’m not referring to the earthquake in South Carolina. For me, this was something bigger. On Feb. 10, there was a collective sigh expressed around the world upon hearing of the death of Shirley Temple Black, the most famous child film actress of all time.
The world lost a friend, sister, childhood role model, public servant, ambassador, diplomat and, maybe most important, a pioneer for breast-cancer awareness.
“Little Miss Miracle,” as she was known, who saved 21st Century Fox from bankruptcy during the height of the Depression, has taken her final journey on the good ship Lollipop.
When Mom called me last week, I could hear in her voice something was not right. When she told me the news, I also grew a little sad that day knowing that millions of people, including myself, have been influenced by Temple in some way.
Mom and Shirley were the same age, and she grew up with every happy song and optimistic character that Shirley played. Her film career alone was incredible, but there was much more to Shirley Temple Black that made her so special.
Life for “The Little Colonel” was not always spent on the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay. “Little Miss Marker” — who stopped believing in Santa Clause at the age of 6, noting that when she went to see Santa, he asked her for an autograph — had many challenges of her own as she transitioned to adult life.
Waning popularity with audiences and a marriage that would end in divorce were just the beginnings. Her father’s poor financial management of her money left her with only a fraction of all she had earned throughout her heralded film career. And yet, she persevered.
In 1972, she startled the world when she spoke about her recent mastectomy to remove a cancerous tumor from her left breast. This was at a time when few people, particularly movie stars, spoke in public about their medical problems. Her brave, candid approach to her illness was remarkable and paved the way years later for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure.”
More important, it was the continuous attention that she gave to this cause. She went on to write an article for McCall’s magazine supporting the right for women to make their own decisions about treatment, saying, “The doctor can make the incision, I’ll make the decision.”
Shirley Temple Black’s life is a lesson in optimism. The secret to her success was her cheerful personality, relentless work ethic (just watch “Baby Take a Bow,” and you will see what I mean), and, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, her “infectious optimism.” Remember, this was at the height of the Depression and folks were looking for something to embrace. Roosevelt added, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”
I haven’t heard anything like that come out of a president’s mouth in a long time! Leaders owe it to the people who are following to always look on the bright side, because failing to do so will cast a cloud over everything.
Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Shirley Temple Black was that and more. We will miss “Our Little Girl.”
DeLong is the executive director of The Suites at Station Exchange. Call him at 912-531-7867 or go to www.thesuitesatstationexchange.com.