( The Ugly American was the title of a 1958 bestseller by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Set in the mythical South East Asian country of Sarkhan , it was a searing indictment of Americans who don’t understand or respect local cultures when living abroad. In their arrogance, they consider the locals inferior to themselves and make no attempt to find out their real needs. For many years , the title of the book became a catch phrase for selfish, crass, unfeeling Americans and all that was wrong with America. This post is about their polar opposite….The Beautiful American).
George is a retired insurance agent, his wife Corinne a Registered Nurse. She was his college sweetheart and they have been married for more than forty years. They have five children, two girls and three boys, all of whom are married except for the youngest. All the children live close by. George & Corrinne dote on their grandchildren and George, when he has the time, likes to play golf. Like their parents before them, George and Corinne are devout churchgoers and believing in doing good.
From my description so far, these two would seem to be decent, solidly middle class Americans with good family values but nothing more. What sets them apart is the manner in which they have thrown themselves, heart and soul, into a cause they believe in. That is what makes them the Beautiful Americans.
One clue as to what makes George tick is his service in Vietnam. As a person of conscience, he did not want to kill people so , when he was drafted, he served as an Air Force pilot ferrying people and supplies. In keeping with his beliefs , he was always active in charitable causes throughout his career. Now that he has retired he devotes all his time and effort to a movement called Heal the Children.
Heal the Children brings foreign children to the U.S for badly needed surgery. Some of these children have heart problems; others are badly burned and need plastic surgery.American surgeons donate their services and hospitals provide the facilities but the long post- operative recovery period means that the children need a place to stay for weeks and even months. That is where George and Corinne step in, opening their home to these children and providing them a safe, comfortable haven with plenty of TLC. So far they have hosted about a dozen such children from Korea and South America. In one case, where a child received a bone marrow transplant at a hospital in Cincinatti, George and Corinne took turns staying with him for weeks at the Ronald McDonald House there while he recovered.
One of the latest cases involved a girl from the Dominican Republic who needed re-constructive surgery to replace half her jawbone.This required extensive surgery and necessitated several operations spaced months apart.When she was in George’s house she would be schooled so that her education did not lapse. Each time , after the girl recovered , she would go back to the Dominican Republic and stop learning. Finally, George and Corinne decided to adopt her and she is now one of their family.How many people can you think of who would take on such a responsibility , espescialy at their age ?
Twice a year, George organizes trips to the Dominican Republic so that the poor there can receive free medical care. Churches and other social groups in Santo Domingo line up needy people with medical problems. George flies over there with donated medical supplies and teams of doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. On one such trip, these volunteers performed 500 cataract operations over a long weekend. Another time , it was a group of orthopedists who provided succor.
All of this is done quietly and without fanfare. I’ve never met George and I only came to know of him through a mutual friend. I’m sure there is a lot of other charitable work that George and Corinne do that I’m not aware of. Many of us give to charities but how many give of themselves as unstintingly as George and Corinne do. That is I think of them as the Beautiful Americans.
There are many others like George and Corinne. Scores of them, hundreds of them, thousands of them. They do what they do without expectation of reward or fame. They do it because they feel it is the right thing to do. In fact, I think they do their good deeds without conscious thought. Whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world , it seems like Americans are at the forefront of relief efforts, donating not just money but time and effort. These are the Beautiful Americans.
George, Corinne and all those faceless others like you…. You are an inspiration to the rest of us. Live long and prosper and may your tribe increase.