“You are worthwhile” said Mae Morse, the foster care professional moving me from my fourth to my fifth foster home. She opened my life to possibility when she spoke those three words. I was just twelve years old when she sat me down at the end of our first meeting and unknowingly became my first champion. That first affirmation of self tattooed itself on my spirit, where it has remained my entire life. As I graduated from high school, became office boy at the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, growing 19 years later to become publisher of the Times Union and ultimately nationwide head of the Hearst Newspaper Group and vice president of The Hearst Corporation, Mae Morse’s words provided me with a treasure trove of confidence and self-worth.
It is my experience that foster care children often drift through life because there is no force to offer encouragement or guidance with grades, special interests, homework, and so on. Many of these children have all of their intellectual and emotional energy focused on not being pushed away from yet another foster family, leaving little energy to tap into and develop the potential of their lives. Mae Morse not only introduced me to my potential; she also introduced me to the promise of others. Her kindness taught me to be open to others, rather than constantly asking what they wanted from me or wondering what their angle was. She was a first in a tapestry of threads that set the structure for my life. I have been fortunate to have kind people come my way, but more fortunate to recognize them.
After graduating from high school, with no family and no money, I walked into the office of the Albany Times Union. The office manager, Margaret Mahoney, was interviewing a line of young men for the office boy position. There was no obvious urgency to that lowest job in the department, thus the manager would only take the applications in between handling other chores. I was last in line. When it came my turn, Margaret Mahoney looked at me and said, “I want to ask you a question.” “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. After what seemed like another hour of her staring at me, she asked, “Why are you wearing that hat?”
I explained that my friend suggested I looked too young and should wear a hat to the interview. “But,” she admonished, “you have been inside this department for over an hour. You are supposed to take your hat off when you walk inside.” I then whisked the hat off and explained that I had never had a hat before and did not know what to do with it. Her stern stare turned into a warm smile. To this day, I am convinced she gave me the job because I did not know enough to take off my hat.
I had not worked with her for more than four months when she asked me to come to her office. (I was terrified I was going to get fired.) She sat me down in a chair facing her and said: “I have been a foster parent, and when I saw that you came through the foster care system, I was inspired to take interest in you. I have been the office manager here for fifteen years and have seen office boys come and go. Your positive manner really made an impression on me. I have been observing you, and I believe you are full of promise.“
It was magical. In that moment, she gave me permission to have ambition and changed my life forever. Hearing those affirming 3 + 5 = the eight words, I no longer saw myself as driftwood, but rather as a person with a purpose.
About ten years later, following a tour of duty with the Navy during the Korean War, I had the opportunity to meet Gene Robb, the publisher of the Albany Times Union. He had a gentle, but leathery presence. I was a young ad salesman supporting a new family, while attending Siena College at night to further my education—nothing glamorous—at least not to me. Gene, however, saw more.
Gene Robb was on the Board of Trustees at Siena College, and received every publication the college printed, including the literary journal, The Beverwyck, in which I had begun publishing small pieces. One day, we were riding in the elevator at the paper when he turned to me and said, “I see an R. Danzig at Siena College writing for The Beverwyck. Is that someone related to you?” I told him that I was the R. Danzig he spoke of and our conversation ended there. However, without my knowledge, Gene Robb subsequently did something one might not be able to do today—he had my grades sent to him after every semester.
When I graduated from Siena College in 1962, Mr. Robb asked me to join him for breakfast one Saturday morning. He told me that it was his intention to retire from the publisher’s position in 1974 and write editorials. It was over this breakfast that I learned he had been keeping an eye on me, studying me as it were, and having my grades sent to his office. He said, “I’ve concluded that I would like you to be an optional candidate to succeed me someday. With that in mind, I am going to put you in a program where you’ll go into the various disciplines of the newspaper. But, the deal will be that whatever job you go into, if you can’t cut it, you can’t go back to the old job.”
Although Gene Robb provided me an opportunity, there was a high performance bar requirement. I would not be a crown prince overnight. I had to perform every assignment I was given, and I did so to the very best of my ability.
Seven years later, Gene passed away from a heart attack, and I ascended to his position. As that young twelve-year-old boy sitting with Mae Morse, I never imagined that so many years later I would have had so many champions in my life. Mae Morse offered me my first glimpse of hope by affirming my sense of self. Margaret Mahoney took that a step further, by reinforcing my potential and igniting my spirit. Gene Robb recognized the young man who developed from the kind words of these two women, and championed the next stage of my life.
I bounced around from foster home to foster home and was never adopted. Yet today, I have five wonderful children and ten treasured grandchildren. My life is overflowing with a tight family, supportive friends, and a fruitful career. I have Mae Morse, Margaret Mahoney, Gene Robb, and countless others who saw in me what, as a young child, I never knew existed. Their examples are testaments to what can happen when a child has a champion.