Some stories are so powerful that they don’t seem to get old, no matter how often they’re repeated.
That’s the effect Sean Tuohy’s remarks seemed to have on a crowd gathered for an evening reception Thursday, Nov. 15, at Independent Bank’s office tower in East Memphis.
Tuohy, a sports commentator and business owner, was the final guest for the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club Signature Breakfast Series for 2012.
And it’s an understatement to say his and his family’s story are well-known.
They are portrayed in the Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster “The Blind Side,” about the episode in their lives when the Tuohys happened upon an orphaned black teenager, Michael Oher, and took him under their wing.
Tuohy, with his wife, Leigh Anne, and daughter, Collins, seated to the side looking on, explained that when the garage door opens at their home, a visitor would be able to see a sign that says “We believe in miracles.”
Finding Oher, raising him, his future as a professional football player, the movie and everything that followed are miracles to the Tuohys. They also take delight in coincidences.
Tuohy took delight in explaining an episode of the movie’s casting. It took a long time to find actors to portray Leigh Anne. Tuohy himself was portrayed by singer and actor Tim McGraw, although he likes to joke that the physical resemblance is tenuous.
“I could take any 10 of you, and I promise you I’d find stories that parallel ours – or better. You may think you can’t do this. I guarantee you can do it.”
When the director had a collection of choices to wade through to pick an actress to portray the Tuohys’ daughter, the choice was almost immediate. And the crowd gave a kind of collective “Wow” when Tuohy told them the actress’ name was Collins, the same as his daughter.
To be more specific, it was Lily Collins, the daughter of singer Phil Collins.
Collins Tuohy herself has grown into an accomplished young woman who graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in broadcast journalism. She is the director of sales and marketing and co-owner of The Whimsy Cookie Co., and some of the business’ cookies were on hand at Thursday’s event, frosted with icing depicting the Independent Bank logo.
“You can imagine the journey we’ve been on,” Sean Tuohy told the crowd. “Maybe you can’t. But I just want to make sure everybody understands, I could take any 10 of you, and I promise you I’d find stories that parallel ours – or better. You may think you can’t do this. I guarantee you can do it.”
In his own biography, Oher writes about his hardships growing up in Memphis. He grew up in the Hurt Village public housing development – a place so depressing to him he said it could not have had a more fitting name.
During one period in his life, the future NFL player sold Commercial Appeal newspapers on street corners in Memphis.
Great stories often can be boiled down to a single message, and the best messages are simple. Tuohy’s to the Lipscomb Pitts crowd did not disappoint.
He recounted the lesson he learned and that he conveys to audiences when telling the story of how his family met Oher. Tuohy was driving with his wife when he saw Oher by the road and says he likely would have continued on, but for his wife’s two-word command: Turn around.
That’s the lesson he imparts to audiences – to make a difference, by turning around.