As a young woman, Lois Pope had visions of being a big time Broadway star.
The Philadelphia-born singer-actress was well on her way, until a life-changing visit to NYC’s Rusk Rehabilitation hospital in 1965.
Vietnam War veterans were in beds, wheelchairs and gurneys around a large room where she was set to perform. Pope began to tremble in shock and fear.
“I wish I could say I knew about the plight of the disabled vets and that it was a cause close to my heart, but that wasn’t the case back then,” Pope says Pope from her home in Manalapan. “I was naive and clueless. I thought, How come I don't know about these people?’”
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One soldier, in particular, stood out. When Pope was singing Somewhere from West Side Story and reached the lyrics, “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” she saw the man had no arm.
Instead of recoiling in fear, Pope thought she needed to do something right then and there.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me to see them in this condition,” Pope says. “They greeted me with smiles and I thought, ‘We need to take care of them.’”
A half-century or so later, Pope is doing just that. She has been working tirelessly for years to get the American Veterans for Life Memorial built. The dedication ceremony is set for Sunday in Washington. On hand: President Barack Obama and actor Gary Sinise, who runs a veterans affairs foundation and also heads the Lt. Dan Band, named after his Forrest Gump character.
Located on an almost 2.5-acre plot of land near the National Mall, the memorial (www.avdlm.org) will serve to remind visitors about the sacrifices of those who served.
“I promised myself back then, ‘If I ever have the means to get this done I will,’” says the former Delray Beach resident, whose late husband, Generoso Pope Jr., founded the National Enquirer.
The philanthropist, now 81, certainly spreads the wealth. She also donated $10 million to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to establish the Lois Pope LIFE Center, dedicated to spinal cord injuries and neurological diseases.
Tireless? You could say that.
“I can’t imagine going through life not helping others,” Pope says. “I’ve been very blessed that I have been able to.”
Where does all the energy come from?
“I try to put in three a miles a day, speedwalking or whatever and eat well,” says the widow, who has six children. “But I really like what I do. I’m a passionate woman, and I think that’s important.”