Service of Making the Best

May 21st, 2015

Categories: Attitude, Awards, Books, Compassion, Help, Live Performances, Music, Optimism, Thinking of Others

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out,” is credited to three-time All-American basketball player and coach John Wooden. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this great quote.

Patrick Donohue

Patrick Donohue

I first heard it at The Christopher Awards last week. If there is one person who took this quote to heart it’s Patrick Donohue who said it in accepting the James Keller Award, named after the organization’s founder. His daughter’s baby nurse shook the infant so violently that she destroyed 60 percent of the rear cortex of the child’s brain. That was 10 years ago. Since then Donohue founded a research initiative as well as the International Academy of Hope—iHope—the first school for kids with brain injuries like Sarah Jane’s and other brain-based disorders. It’s in NYC and he plans to expand to other US cities. 

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Carol Graham and Major General Mark Graham [retired] accepted Yochi Dreazan’s award. Dreazan was honored with a Christopher for his book, “Invisible Front.” The Grahams also illustrate the Wooden quote. The book is about how the Army treated the deaths of their sons. Jeff was hailed a hero after being killed while serving in Iraq and Kevin’s death, by suicide, was met with silence. Today the Grahams work to change the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], to erase the stigma that surrounds those with mental illness and to remind active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans and family members that seeking help is a sign of strength. This summer General Graham and associates plan to convert two call centers into one which will be supported with private funding: @ 855-838-8255 and Vet2Vet Talk @ 855-838-7481. The keys to their crisis prevention telephone program: Trained peers counsel and advise callers, provide referrals and follow up with them.

Murray Liebowitz is the third example in this post. A stranger to us, we attended his memorial concert at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College last Sunday. A passionate music lover with a special appreciation for Gustav Mahler, Liebowitz paid for the concert–Mahler’s Symphony No. 9–so that it was free to the mourners as well as to the community. He made the arrangements with Bard president Leon Botstein before he died. Tributes in the program described Liebowitz as “modest,” “kind,” “direct,” “generous,” “loyal,” “disarmingly unpretentious,” “delightful,” and “warm.” But he wasn’t always successful. This Bard board member went bankrupt when his first business failed. His New Jersey egg farm thrived until supermarket chains put him out of business. He earned his fortune in his second career as a Florida real estate developer.

Botstein wrote in the program, “Murray Liebowitz was a true gentleman. He was a man who enjoyed enormous success in business but one who never let success in life go to his head. We live in an age where money and wealth appear to be valued above all other achievements. They stand uncontested as the proper measure of excellence. To be rich, it seems, means that one might actually be superior to others. This corrosive calculus is one in which Murray never believed. He was without arrogance.”

Many face personal tragedy, devastating business reversals—and even overwhelming success—and make the best of the way things work out. Can you share additional examples?

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9 Responses to “Service of Making the Best”

  1. Gordon McCoy Said:

    I applaud the generous efforts of the thoughtful and caring Americans about whom you have so feelingly written, but, without in the least diminishing your praise of them, I have a question.

    In a world of limited and shrinking resources, should it be the State’s, or an individual’s, prerogative to determine how money destined to benefit society is allocated and distributed?

    We live in a time when wealth and power are increasingly vested in the hands of the very few. They, and not the State, now determine where most charity dollars go. It was not always this way. Think back to Roosevelt and his “New Deal,” Kennedy and his “New Frontier” and Johnson and the “Great Society.”

    Given our vast needs in areas, to name just a few, such as race, health and education, might it not be in our common interest that there be a better balance than exists at present between public and private initiatives to better the world in which we all live?

    I don’t have the answer. Perhaps your readers do.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Excellent question, the answer to which might also be of great help to Patrick Donohue and General Graham. Unfortunately Mr. Liebowitz, who was on many major boards, can’t share his invaluable perspective. My immediate reaction is to feel pessimism over successful collaboration between public support and private initiatives such as theirs. A mix works for museums, NPR, public colleges and schools–though I don’t know how smoothly–as well as hospitals. They acquire public and private funding and no doubt have representatives from both on their boards whether directors or trustees. I detect tension between academia and support by alums and volunteers in a public university with which I’m familiar. The development office staff is devoted to bringing in pots of private money while I am not convinced there’s respect for those who write checks or donate time.

    You may have identified business for potential brokers between the two worlds. Giant corporations and major industries have lobbyists beat the drum for them in Washington. Smaller fries must rely on public opinion which at the moment seems fractured and distracted. Social media should help.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    All this fanfare is highly uplifting, until thoughts turn to the thousands of lesser known heroes whose efforts and sacrifices to overcome adversity may far exceed those of the above named honorees.

    The fabric of society is somewhat akin to that of a cake, with the trumpeted individuals serving as icing, with the rest forming the cake itself. While icing is attractive, it collapses with no underpinning.

    Memorial Day is coming, so how about some awards to those who may be less decorated, but as much, if not more deserving?

  4. David Reich Said:

    All these people are inspirational examples of what any of us can do, in our own small way, to make a difference.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have identified some of the limitations of blogging. I believe 1) that posts should be as short as possible and 2) that I don’t want to cover every angle so that there’s some conversation left for others. In addition, in my enthusiasm, I may not have made clear what I did write to give you this impression. In fact, I thought that this was the perfect subject for Memorial weekend and traded it for another topic that I was ready to publish.

    A man whose baby was attacked by a predator nurse and is doing everything he can so she—and others with brain injuries–might walk and talk is a hero. A couple who lost one son to war and another to suicide are using the father’s hard-won prestigious position to spread the word that it’s brave to get help so that others’ sons and daughters don’t die prematurely. The third man didn’t give up when he lost everything and when he did succeed financially, he shared his wealth and business savvy with others and according to those who knew him, was unpretentious and without arrogance. When his doctor told him how ill he was, he chose to give the gift of music—something that was precious to him—to his family and to a community.

    I was privileged to meet Mr. Donohue and the Grahams which may be another reason I chose to write about them. I did not mean disrespect to unsung heroes. When I think of them I weep.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am glad that you wrote “in our own small way,” because by writing about high-profile people with such monumental goals, as Lucrezia pointed out, might discourage others from doing anything.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    When I read your post of ” Making the Best” I immediately thought of the Brady Campaign to end Gun Violence started by James Brady and his wife. With incredible fortitude and emotional generosity, after surviving being shot during an assassination attempt on President Reagan, James and Sarah founded the campaign to prevent further gun violence. Although they are no longer alive the campaign continues today. In a similar fashion former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, after she was the victim of a mass assault which left her with multiple permanent damages, started a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions designed to promote gun control legislation with officials and the general public. They support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill and other limitations on sale and trafficking in guns. These are the strongest examples I can think of.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Two great examples of people who are served a lousy hand and play it better than most for whom little if anything has gone wrong.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I saw a lovely example of public and private sectors working together on my walk in to work and thought of your comment.

    There’s an entrance to an apartment building near where the crosstown bus stops on 49th Street near First Avenue in Manhattan. A bus driver hopped out and borrowed the hose that a porter had been using to wash the sidewalk. The driver sprayed his windshield and front windows and returned the hose, with smiles all around. So cooperation can happen at basic levels for certain.

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