UNITED WAY

Blind Side mom to United Way: ‘You all can make a difference’

 

hsampson@MiamiHerald.com

Leigh Anne Tuohy only had about 20 minutes, and she didn’t waste a second of it in her keynote address to a group of 900 women gathered in Coral Gables Wednesday morning.

She barely paused to breathe as she jumped from topics including how much food you can get for $80 at Taco Bell (“a lot”) to her idea of a home-cooked meal (restaurant food that she pays for) to the lack of a resemblance between her husband and Tim McGraw, who played him in the hit movie The Blind Side (“Tim McGraw is smoking hot”).

But Tuohy had a point to make to the crowd gathered for the United Way of Miami-Dade’s women’s leadership breakfast. And that’s when she slowed down.

“Society deemed my son 100 percent valueless,” she said of Michael Oher, a homeless teen adopted by the Tuohy family who eventually became a star athlete and NFL player. Now 27, he is a player for the Baltimore Ravens.

She recalled a quote from Nick Saban, then coach of the Louisiana State University football team, calling Oher “the most obvious success story that there is walking the streets of Memphis, Tennessee.”

“If someone that is as immensely valuable as my son Michael almost falls thru the cracks, can you imagine who gets left behind?” she said.

A Memphis native and interior designer, Tuohy was relatively unknown outside her community before Oher joined her family, which includes husband Sean and two kids. Now, she said members of the family speak to groups once or twice a week about their experiences.

The family was driving on a cold day and saw Oher walking down the street, not dressed for the weather. Tuohy told her husband to go back.

“Here’s this kid that was walking down the street; he didn’t know his right name, his birthday, never had a bedroom, closet, you name it,” she said. “And all we did was offer him hope and love and opportunity and he is a contributing member of society starring as right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.”

She invoked the theme of the breakfast — “changing a life is life changing”— and challenged the group to make a difference.

“The power of one is strong and, ladies, giving will change your life,” she said.

The author Michael Lewis learned of the family’s story and wrote a book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game published in 2006. The film version came out in 2009 and was nominated for an Oscar. Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Tuohy.

“I don’t think she expected a blockbuster movie to be made about her because all she was doing was caring about a fellow human being the way she would want to be treated,” said Sue Miller, a longtime United Way of Miami-Dade volunteer, in her introduction of Tuohy. “And in being herself and in standing up for others, she has inspired millions of people.”

The Women’s Leadership group in Miami-Dade includes 2,000 women who give $1,000 or more to United Way every year. Wednesday’s event, the 13th annual breakfast, was held at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami.

Maria Mas Blet, managing director of KR Financial Services and vice chair of the United Way’s national women’s leadership council, said she thought the talk would inspire attendees to venture out of their comfort zones and “do a little more.”

“It’s all about taking the chance to do something extraordinary,” she said.

Blet said she thought Tuohy hit a home run — and then, considering the topic, chose a new sports analogy.

Said Blet: “She scored a touchdown.”

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