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Tuohy: 'You can change a life and one is a powerful number'

Date: 5/4/2010

May 5, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Speaking before a capacity audience at the MassMutual Center on Friday as part of the day-long 15th Annual Women's Leadership Conference, Leigh Anne Tuohy didn't mince any words.

The woman, whose story about adopting football star Michael Oher was told in a best-selling book and a hit movie, said at many of the speaking engagements she now has there is a question and answer period and inevitably someone asks, "Has the movie changed your life?"

Tuohy's response: "That is the stupidest question."

Leigh Anne and her daughter Collins were among the speakers at the conference. CNN's Soledad O'Brien, human rights advocate and author Somaly Mam and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also spoke on the theme of "Community Matters."

Leigh Anne said, "You can change a life and one is a powerful number. And I lived it."

She urged the audience to give to someone every day and to get outside of their "comfort zone."

"Giving is euphoric," she said.

"Adopting a six-foot, six-inch black kid can't be for everyone -- they eat a lot," she said with a laugh.

Leigh Anne added, "Every individual in the world has value. We are all guilty of placing value on people and doing it inappropriately."

"Every city has Michael Ohers," she continued. " ... It's not about money. They need your time."

Leigh Anne said she had no idea when author Michael Lewis came to her hometown to Memphis, Tenn., to reunite with an old friend, her husband Sean, her life would be "turned upside down and inside out."

Lewis spent two years with the family learning their story of adopting Oher. Collins said that Lewis could be seen in the family photo albums during that time at every significant event.

Oher, who had been in and out of foster homes, was adopted by the family and helped to succeed in high school and then college. He is now a star offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.

When the book was first optioned for a movie, Lewis told the Touhy family they shouldn't get their hopes up as none of his other books had made it past the option stage.

"We took him at his word and here we are today," Leigh Anne said.

Collins said that director John Lee Hancock had literally taken the script out of the trash at 20th Century Fox where it had languished and vowed to make the movie. Collins said that like Lewis, Hancock spent considerable time with the family.

"John Lee Hancock pledged to be truthful to the family, to Michael and to our Christian faith," she said.

No one expected the film to be the success it was, Collins said. She added with the film's $29 million budget, she thought it would be a small independent film that wouldn't attract much notice.

She said seven months after its release it was still playing theatrically. It is now available on DVD.

Collins, echoing her mother, said, "Make every day Christmas and give all you can."

As part of its "Community Matters" theme, Bay Path College, in partnership with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, is sponsoring "Community Matters Day" on June 17. Volunteers are needed for projects at Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, Square One, the Care Center, the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the Trustees of the Reservations.

To volunteer, e-mail Caron Hobin at or call 565-1333.