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Sun, March 24

Column: The lives of ordinary men

This week two news events captured my attention. The first was the visit to the United States by Pope Francis, the "People's Pope." Although I'm not Catholic and didn't watch the 24/7 media coverage of the Pope's visit, I did enjoy reading about his life as the pope.

Evidently he has eschewed the "fancy" trappings of many of the prior popes, preferring to lead a more simple life - even as the pope. He wears regular shoes, instead of the "specially-made" red loafers that other popes have worn. He eats in the Vatican workers' cafeteria with regular people and he sleeps in the "dorm" where other workers sleep.

The Pope is a big soccer fan, enjoys listening to Beethoven, and gets his glasses at a regular optical store, just like us ordinary folks. He even battles a weight problem like many of us. Except for chartering a private airplane for his world travels, the Pope seems to be a "regular guy" - and is lauded as such everywhere he travels.

In many ways, Pope Francis reminds me of the character played by Anthony Quinn in the 1968 movie, The Shoes of the Fisherman.

The second news item that caught my eye was the death of baseball great Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90.

Although Yogi's death didn't garner extensive media coverage, his death was nostalgic for many diehard baseball fans. To those who enjoyed "America's pastime" in the 1950s and '60s, Berra embodied the American dream.

Born to Italian immigrant parents, Berra's dad had never even heard of the game of baseball. Despite being diminutive in size, Yogi was a giant as he played catcher and a terror to opposing pitchers as a batter. An All Star selection for 18 of his 19 professional seasons and the only baseball player to be on 10 winning World Series teams, Yogi was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

But there turns out to be much more to Yogi Berra than his baseball talents. Berra didn't complete high school, dropping out in the eighth grade. He joined the Navy during WWII and served as a gunner's mate on board a landing craft during the invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach. For his military service Berra was awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Unit Citation, two Battle Stars, and the European Theater of Operations Award.

In 2009, he was awarded the Navy's Lone Sailor Award for exemplifying the Navy's core values and, in 2013, he was awarded the first Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, which is baseball's award that pays honor to those in the military.

This year over 100,000 people signed an online petition asking the White House to award Berra the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his military service and his activism for civil rights and education.

By now you might be asking what the connection is between a Catholic pope and a Yankees baseball star from the 1950s. It's simple: each was an ordinary man from humble beginnings who accomplished extraordinary things with humility.

One became the modern-day leader of one of the world's great religions and the other became a living legend of the power of opportunity in America. They were just ordinary men who became extraordinary human beings.

Throughout history we can find stories of many extraordinary people like the Pope and Yogi Berra. Men and women who started life in humble beginnings, but with perseverance and humility, they became great leaders, poets, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors - the list is endless.

Perhaps the 19th century English writer John Ruskin said it best: "I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility."

Pam Jones has been politically active at the local, state and national levels for over 20 years. In addition to owning her own healthcare consulting business, she has served on many Prescott-area community boards. Her views are her own and she does not represent any group.


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