The Words of the Carlson Family


Paul Carlson
October 2004

This article is a tribute to greatness. It’s for the great and good people I’ve met, or heard about, and who’ve affected each of our lives.


At our family church we recently honored a young man who returned from a year’s service in Iraq. He and his helicopter crew ran over 700 rescue missions, all completed successfully, thus saving countless lives. In a quiet, understated way, everyone at church knew we were privileged that day.

Years ago, as a low-level staffer at the Washington Times, I was honored to support Ronald Reagan, and his greatest goals, in just a small way.

Last summer my family visited the Reagan Presidential Library. During work, I’d listened to several of the Reagan memorial services on my truck radio, and that was enough to bring me close to tears. Back home, we caught the final service on TV, and from then on I knew we ought to visit the place.

The facility displays keepsakes from Reagan’s humble childhood, and from each phase of his long career, culminating in his accomplishments as President. Especially, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of communist domination. Seeing Gorbachev at the man’s funeral shows for certain that his triumphs will be known for all of history.


The next day, my family took a little tour of Hollywood. It got me to wondering, what is greatness? Where does it come from? What brings it to the fore? Is it always public, or are their quieter versions? The previous summer, my family had visited the new Experience Music Project, near the Space Needle in downtown Seattle. It’s been called "Paul Allen’s Shrine to Jimi Hendrix," and that is, in small part, a fair description.

Hendrix was a very talented musician. But was he, in a wider sense, a great person? A good example of personal conduct and lifestyle? I’m afraid the answer must be, not hardly . . .

There is a real distinction between celebrity and character, and not much correlation between fame and true greatness. One can be packaged, bought, and sold; while the other grows steadily, with time and understanding.

A few people come to greatness suddenly. On 9/11/01, a group of homebound Californians were skyjacked, then learned via cell phone the terrorist’s awful plans. They acted fast, and took back flight 93 before it could descend upon Washington, DC. Among them were a devout Christian, a wealthy executive, and a gay rugby player. On that day they were Americans first, and heroes to the end. They did not seek their fate, but rose to the occasion, as did so many on that tragic day.


Over the years, many wonderful books have been published in tribute to parents, teachers, coaches, and others who inspire young people. Perhaps these people didn’t achieve celebrity status, or become known beyond their immediate sphere of influence.

Usually they didn’t seek fame, but rather, strove to follow their conscience, to be the best parents, and to perform their jobs as well as possible. No official biographer will record their life stories, but they’ll live on in the memories of many good and successful adults. Our own Kim Brown has offered several such tributes in these very pages.

Opposite this, many celebrities hire cynical publicists to keep their face before the cameras, even manufacturing incidents, or "accidentally" releasing scandalous video tapes. One young woman, who’s named after a large European city, has been called "the Islamic extremist’s number one reason to despise America."

Later in life, when the stage (or stadium) lights have dimmed, and the botox can’t keep up any more, such people have been known to hire expensive prostitutes. Summoned to their homes, not to touch, but simply to provide someone to talk to. How sad . . .


During the recent political campaigns we’ve heard a lot about famous men, and what they did many years ago, to help advance plans they’ve had all their lives. That is, to become wealthy and powerful, and maybe President of the United States.

Most families strive to inculcate good values and character in their children, and to offer a tradition of humble service to others. At the time their kids might complain, but later they’re grateful.

Other families, it seems, are greedy and elitist. Their scions will set up, or perhaps even falsify, a resume of education, events, and achievements. A tale calculated to appeal to the masses of society.

It’s not hard to tell the difference. Stories will follow such persons over the years, but in giving them the benefit of the doubt, their current conduct will tell us much more.

How do they treat people? In general, but in particular, any social inferiors they meet? (Rivals, too, especially in defeat.)

Are they fair and polite to those who serve them, incidentally or full time? Does the busboy, or the hospitalized soldier, garner heartfelt and respectful treatment?

Or does that ‘top dog’ blame and berate their own partners, staff (or team), and occasional servers? Does the phrase, "Do you know who I am?" fall easily from their lips?

One hopes that the American people will be able to tell the difference, and then give a high priority to the genuine, day-to-day character of their wannabe leaders. Believe me, it will affect their conduct, policies, and major decisions.

During my years on National MFT, one of our favorite ‘workshop coffee table’ topics was the famous people we’d encountered. Here was the ultimate ‘off camera’ situation, as Mr. or Mrs. Bigwig is approached by an unknown young fundraiser. Among others, high marks were given to Bob Hope and Colonel Sanders.


A person’s decent character and good principles will always show, in crisis or casual times. Poll, hype, and ‘focus group’ driven popularity hounds will show as well—but often in indecision, collapse, or scandal.

Too few historians note that, as events progressed, Neville Chamberlain became an ardent supporter of World War Two, and of Hitler’s defeat. Meanwhile, Norway’s infamous Nazi sympathizer Vidkun Quisling gave his own name, in becoming a new curse word. (Incidentally, showing us that strong principles alone, of any kind, are not good enough.)

Many people never sought greatness, but dire circumstances thrust it upon them. Only those with sufficient character could rise to the occasion. Even then, some can’t handle the aftermath, as with celebrated rescuers who later commit suicide.

Other people sought greatness for the sake of a larger good, perhaps to help liberate their nation. Usually they needed a solid education, certain technical skills, and a compelling presentation.


A few people achieve the highest respect from all humanity. Their Godly love, service, and wisdom mark them as saints before everyone. Sometimes within, but too often after, their own physical lifetime.

Slowly, and at long last, the world’s leaders are acknowledging Rev. Moon’s great and varied contributions. And he hasn’t stopped yet! Already, it’s more than enough for a Nobel Peace Prize.

 Download entire page and pages related to it in ZIP format
Table of Contents
Copyright Information
Tparents Home