A Child of Foster Care Pays Tribute To Its Heroes
by Chris Connell
The Times Union (Albany, NY)
Since relinquishing the helm of the Hearst Newspapers in 1998, Robert J. Danzig has poured much of his energy into writing and speaking about leadership, including his first book, “The Leader Within You,” a business bestseller.
He followed that with inspirational works, including “Angel Threads” and “Vitamins for the Spirit,” a collection of quotes.
Danzig always begins his talks by recalling the words that social worker Mae Morse told him, “You are worthwhile,” when she was shuttling him, age 12, between foster homes in Albany.
Danzig has made a practice of donating speaking fees to help send foster-care children to college. His books are “all kind of hokey,” he said self-effacingly, “but the essence is to offer a message of hope to people in their lives.”
“I just gave this stream of consciousness words,” he says.
Danzig has written two new inspirational books with the hope of inspiring the parents and social workers who struggle to make a better life for foster-care children, and giving those 542,000 children “a sense of hope and personal possibility.”
“I’ve long looked for some kind of message that I could carve out, and celebrate all the unsung heroes,” he says.
The two books, “Every Child Deserves a Champion” and “There Is Only One You,” are headed into bookstores nationwide under the imprint of The Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest charity working on behalf of neglected children. Both books come packaged with songs on CDs that echo Danzig’s messages: “You Are Worthwhile” and “There Is Only One You.” All proceeds will support the CWLA’s work.
Finding a champion
He borrowed the title of “Every Child Deserves a Champion” from a couple he met hiking around Taos, N.M.
The couple recalled the humiliation their computer-engineer son Danny faced as a 4-year-old when playmates competed in a shoelace-tying contest. With mild cerebral palsy, Danny could not tie his laces at all. The father taught himself to tie shoelaces with his left hand, then imparted the skill to his son.
Danny won the next neighborhood contest and came running home to say, “Daddy, you are my champion.”
Written with Callie Rucker Oettinger, “Every Child Deserves a Champion” shares stories from Danzig’s experiences and the lives of others who championed children.
“There Is Only One You” is a picture book constructed around words of encouragement for children. Danzig calls it “an expanded Hallmark card.” It begins, “There is only one you. You are unique in the universe. Only you can hum your favorite song, smile your smile, live your dreams.”
Danzig remembers growing up “with a melancholy lump in my throat.”
His parents divorced, placed their 2-year-old in foster care and left Albany during the Depression. He remembers just five of the many homes he lived in over 14 years. There was no abuse; he recalls instead the kindness of poor families “who had room in their heart to bring in a strange kid.”
Still, no one lit a fire until Morse, that social worker, looked him in the eye and said, “You are worthwhile.” He also remembers Margaret Mahoney, the diminutive office manager at the Times Union, pronouncing not long after hiring him as an office boy, “You are full of promise.”
“Those words were magical. They stayed with me all my life,” said Danzig. “Foster care is about survival and the hopes that you won’t be pushed away again.
“As bad as business could be, or some challenge you were dealing with, it was nothing compared with picking up that black garbage bag, with a few little pieces of clothes and off you go someplace else, not knowing where (or) how you’re going to fit in,” he said.
Danzig had a knack for finding mentors, and as a manager, he nurtured and celebrated the talents of others during his three decades as a Hearst Newspapers executive, starting in 1969 as publisher of the Times Union in Albany.
“Foster-care children often have an extraordinary appetite to be open to the people who cross their paths because there are so few people in your life to endorse or encourage you,” he said.
“Foster kids either shut down — which most unhappily do until someone can pry them open — or they find early in life some reason to become open to other people. I never lost the sense of being open to other people, and that’s been the heart of all these different books I’ve done.”
With five children and five grandchildren, Danzig never felt compelled to find the parents who abandoned him.
But a quarter-century ago, his father read of Danzig’s appointment as general manager of Hearst Newspapers and sent him a vase embroidered with newspaper stories about the new chief executive. The father, who had remarried and lived out West, later visited the Danzigs, met his grandchildren and bonded on fishing trips with the one Danzig child who was adopted.
“It’s curious how things happen,” Danzig remarked.