No one outside of my immediate family has had as great an impact on my life or been a greater inspiration to my thinking than Bernard Werthan, Jr.
Bernard was born to a family of means and could have lived a life of self-centered leisure. Instead, he chose a life of tireless service to others. He gave to his community and to individuals who needed help in too many ways to count.
He and Betty, his lifelong love, were an amazing team. She was his muse, his inspiration and his support. They were far greater together than even the considerable sum of their parts.
One of Bernard’s main charitable endeavors was OIC***.
One year, when Senator Albert Gore, Jr. had to cancel at the last minute, after he had accepted the invitation to speak at the OIC graduation, Bernard decided I was the one to take his place.
“You mean,” I asked incredulously, “they are expecting Al Gore, and they are going to get me?”
“You can do it,” he said.
That was just one example of a time that Bernard had more confidence in me than I have in myself. I shall always be grateful for the trust he placed in me.
Bernard never stopped learning and stretching the extraordinary mind with which God blessed him. He was always on the lookout for ways to use his knowledge to serve others.
During my last visit to Nashville, Bernard said just before I left: “There are two books that you have to read. They put race relations in our country in a whole new light. I’ll have them sent to you.”
A few days later two volumes arrived: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. They sat unopened on my shelf for a year and a half.
Then the invitation came for me to be this year’s keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Day Commemoration and Scholarship Awards Ceremony in Albuquerque, NM.
It was as though Bernard had sent me Stevenson and Alexander’s books for just that occasion.
I read them, and it was just as Bernard had said, they put race relations in America—a subject with which I thought I was thoroughly familiar—in a whole new light. The insights those books contain added immeasurably to the quality of my speech.
For me and for so many others Bernard Werthan put not only race relations but also the very meaning and purpose of life in a whole new light.
His generosity, his wisdom, his caring and his compassion will be a blessing to me—as it will be to so many–as long as I shall live.
***The mission of Nashville Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) is to provide education, training, counseling and job placement services for citizens of the community who are disadvantaged economically, educationally, and socially.
Our vision is to guide people on a successful road to self-achievement: leading to self-reliance.