Headmaster’s Thoughts – January 2013

I don’t know why, but recently Jayme and I have encountered Dr. Ruth Westheimer socially on serveral occasions. Now, there is one extraordinary lady! This month’s thoughts express my admiration for her.

If you meet Dr. Ruth, I am willing to bet that she will be smiling. She has the ability to project happiness and laughter around her. This is not a woman who has had an easy life. Smuggled out of Germany via the “Kinder Transport” to Switzerland when she was ten years old, Ruth was an orphan doing menial house work at the age when most of us were in junior high school. Eventually she reached Israel (then Palestine) and became a sniper. Ruth is a small person. I think the sniper rifle may have been as long as she was tall. But that is what she became, and—she explains with some pride—she was a very good shot. She will tell you this with a smile on her face. She will not tell you that she was seriously wounded in the Israeli War of Independence.

Somehow she moved to France and then New York, where she got her doctorate and studied human sexuality. By chance, she appeared on a radio talk show, and because of this talent to be both honest and very funny, she became a regular host of her own late night talk show. It became one the great radio successes of its time.

Most people probably remember Ruth encouraging David Letterman to say the word “penis” on television. “Come on,” she would encourage, “you can say it! Repeat after me…”

Dr. Ruth was our graduation speaker three years ago. Her touching and funny speech ended with a glorious exhortation to the graduates: “I wish you all great sex!” I have never heard a better end of a graduation speech. It is a tough line to beat.

For someone who is so well known, Ruth is remarkably accessible and very interested in people. If you see her (and I stress she is rather small so that is not as easy as it sounds), you should feel comfortable introducing yourself and talking to her. You will get a dazzling smile, this perky and energetic face will look up at you (never down), and you will be engulfed in her enthusiastic charm. I have always believed that optimism is a much underrated quality; the ability to carry on no matter what and to make the best of every situation is a tremendous asset to have. Ruth Westheimer has this asset in spades.

I know that some complain that America has become a “victim” society. The idea is that the more you can show the hardships in your life, the more entitled to benefits you are. I really do not know Ruth very well, but her life is a testimony to the reverse of that “victim” concept, and she inspires me to stay passionate and search for the positive on every occasion. She also inspires me to live the New Year with humor.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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