Walters holds the door open for women

I often hear people say that Barbara Walters opened the door for women around the world. But I think she holds it open, too.

Barbara Walters courtesy of vanityfair.com

Barbara Walters courtesy of vanityfair.com

Barbara pushed her way through many difficult interviews, invading the psyche of countless celebrities, heads of state, and even accused criminals.

Her sometimes-blatant questions cut through the bull and got to the heart of what everyone really wanted to know. “Did you or did you not do that thing you are accused of doing?”

Some were honest; some lied through their teeth. But it eventually all came out anyway. But Barbara was fearless. She knew it might get her fired, but she asked the questions anyway. And we, the audience, love that.

I have watched Barbara through the years, her rise through the ranks, the way she influenced the world, and I learned something new about her this week.  Not only is she respected, but she is genuinely loved and admired by so many.

Tonight is her final television appearance (never say never!) and her friends and colleagues are honoring her 50 years as a journalist and television personality, remembering her interviews and accomplishments along the way.

But who is Barbara Walters, really? I visited biography.com to learn more about the woman so many hold in such high regard, to find out where she got her start, and the journey she took to help so many women get the recognition they deserve:

“Barbara Walters was born on September 25, 1929, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Gilda Radner, as Barbara Walters, courtesy of nbc.com

Gilda Radner, as Barbara Walters, courtesy of nbc.com.

The daughter of Dena Seletsky Walters and nightclub impresario Lou Walters, Barbara had two siblings: older sister Jacqueline, who was born developmentally disabled and died in 1985, and brother Burton, who died of pneumonia in 1932. Walters was born Jewish, though her parents weren’t practicing Jews.

In 1937, Lou Walters opened a chain of nightclubs that expanded his business from Boston, Massachusetts, to Miami Beach, Florida. As a result, Barbara attended Fieldston and Birch Wathen private schools in New York City, and graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1947. Barbara was surrounded by celebrities from an early age, which has been said to account for her relaxed manner when interviewing famous people.”

“Walters accepted a job at ABC in 1976 as the first woman co-anchor of a network evening news program. That same year, she was chosen to moderate the third and final presidential debate between challenger Jimmy Carter and incumbent President Gerald Ford. Walters also launched the first of a series of Barbara Walters Specials in 1976. The initial interview program featured President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter. She followed up the next year by arranging the first joint interview with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.”

Barbara has had interviews with many famous people, including Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Hillary Clinton. She knows what questions to ask, but what  impresses me most about this woman is how she can get people to open up in an interview. She gains their trust as though she is their best friend, and gets them to “tell it like it is.”

Maybe the week-long celebration did go a little overboard, but after the impact she had on the world, I think she deserves a little fanfare.

My father’s footsteps

My dad, while he was in the Navy, around 1944

My dad, while he was in the Navy, around 1944

Freezing rain and sleet fell in Eastern Iowa last Sunday making travel treacherous for many. Some ventured out, but found it difficult to maneuver the mess the ice storm created. I choose to stay home and get some much-needed housekeeping done.

Since it had been a while, cleaning the storage room would be my first task. I began sorting through the boxes, each one filled with days gone by, mementos of events that our family held dear. 

I came across a lone folder. It didn’t have a label on it, and I thumbed through it to see if it was important.

The faded words, “when I was a boy,” stood out to me, and I realized that it was my father’s manuscript.

He started writing his life story many years ago when he had knee surgery. My mother told me it was great therapy for him as it filled the hours that he spent laid up.

He continued writing even after he healed, asking his brothers for editing advice, both of them giving it back with their critiques.

But as hard as he worked on it, he was never able to finish it.

As I skimmed through the folder, I caught glimpses of his life that I didn’t know about, and it was as if I was learning who my father was in those pages.

He had been in a car accident when I was 4 and he wrote about how he wondered why God gave him a second chance.

He wrote about the colorful characters he encountered while in  the Navy, and how that experience “broadened his horizons.”

I set the manuscript aside to read later and sifted through other boxes to see what treasures I could find. Photos, scrapbooks, old newspaper clipping; it was evident that my father cherished the memories he made.

In the same box I found stories and poems that he had written as a boy. They are faded and hard to read, (one story, titled, “Bunny Paradise,” I can’t wait to read) but seeing where he started and his passion for the written word, brought me closer to him, even though he has been gone more than four years.

The last box held baby books of my brothers and sisters, but at the bottom was another folder with more of the manuscript. I was excited as I looked through it, looking at the last page to see where he was in the story. But it ended in mid-sentence.

Disappointed, I gathered what folders I had and went to investigate. My mother told me that the manuscript was scattered; my brother had some of it, and more of it could be in other boxes. It might take some time, but I’m confident I’ll be able to find them.

Later that night, as I read the first few pages of his story, I saw that he was not only a talented writer, but a wonderful story-teller. Reading the adventures he had as a boy and the time he spent in the Navy showed me what a passion writing had been for him.

Though I have my work cut out for me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to walk in my father’s footsteps.