With Oprah Winfrey officially ending her long running show today let me share a few thoughts.
To start with I do not count myself a fan of Ms. Winfrey. Of course, I am well aware that millions of people in the United States and Canada do not share this view (my 91-year old maternal grandmother amongst them).
Please bear in mind that my opinion of her formed long before she endorsed Barack Obama. Indeed, my impression of her came about during the early years of her show in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When I would get home from school her show would often be on. Frankly, she just rubbed me the wrong way. She came across to me as patronizing and condescending with a ‘I’m better than you’ attitude. Now that I think about it I can see why Oprah and Obama took to each other.
Of course, I am well aware of Oprah’s philanthropy. In fact, I remember getting into a discussion with an old friend from university a couple of years ago about this very subject. I told her that hen it comes to giving there are people who give and then there are people who want to be seen giving.
I cited the late Baseball Hall of Fame Ted Williams as an example of someone who gives. The Splendid Splinter did not have the best of relationships with the media in Boston even at the height of his success. Yet despite Williams’ cantankerous and surly reputation, he made time for The Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox charity for children afflicted with cancer. He visited them regularly at the Dana Farber Institute and would often pay their parents’ hospital bill. Yet Williams eschewed any publicity for these efforts. When one reporter had the temerity to ask Williams about his good works he brushed him off and said, “What I do for the Jimmy Fund, I do for the kids.” For Williams, good deeds spoke for themselves and did not warrant additional attention.
As for Oprah, I view her as someone who wants to be seen giving. Now I don’t doubt that her efforts have helped people who might not otherwise get it. But if there weren’t cameras or a newspaper headline lauding Oprah’s generosity would she be there to give? Even my friend, ever the Oprah fan, admitted that she had to wonder. It is worth noting that when Oprah announced she would be ending her show a year ago, she subsequently shuttered her charity, The Angel Network.