Over 200 women gathered at Haus 820 Thursday for the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation's annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon to hear celebrity Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Oher's story — the basis for “The Blind Side” movie — started when Tuohy met him on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, the weekend before Thanksgiving when he was 16 years old. Tuohy and her husband, Sean, turned their car around after seeing the young man walking alone, dressed in shorts in the chilly season.
Something didn't seem right to her. And, of course, it wasn't. The Touhy family went on to adopt the young man that school officials said would “never make it.”
Before the Tuohys adopted Oher, he had spent much of his childhood in various foster homes.
Oher's life catapulted into success as the family spent time together. Rules of the household included not a whole lot of personal time, she said, mostly school and sports.
The budding football star makes a large presence at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, and had professional scouts and recruiters courting him as an offensive tackle and first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.
His GPA improved, Tuohy said, and he did well in college, playing football at Ole Miss, as well as prep school at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis.
According to his bio, in college Oher was All-SEC first team, first team All-American, runner-up for the Outland Award, and received the Jacobs Award for best blocker in the SEC. He helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2013 as a teammate of Kathleen High graduate and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Ray Lewis.
Tuohy told the women gathered at Haus 820 that her family's adoption of Oher was “100 percent God-driven.”
Speaking to the group, she noted, “You were born with the ability to change someone's life,” and noted that many pre-judge people they see on the street, just like they judged her son, Oher.
“All we did was a simple random act of kindness,” she said. “We learned that families don't have to match.”
Being that November is National Adoption month, Tuohy has taken to Instagram to post a child's name every day. She urges others that even if they do not consider adoption to be for them, to “share the post,” because someone else may want to adopt.
When the world was introduced to the Tuohy's family story, featured in Michael Lewis' New York Times best seller, The Blind Side, it was quickly made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock. The Hollywood blockbuster racked up $300 million at the box office and rose to the number one opening weekend sports film in history, according to Tuohy's bio. Additionally, the film earned Bullock her first Academy Award for the portrayal of Tuohy in the film.
Tuohy and her husband also wrote a New York Times bestseller, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving,” and set up their charity, The Making It Happen Foundation. The charity promotes awareness of all children “fighting to survive in the invisible cracks in society.”
Tuohy also released a new devotional, Turn Around, that uses scripture as a springboard to reconsider what it means to give “sacrificially, generously, and immediately — many times, without having to leave your own community.” Sean is known for his work as an NBA broadcaster and entrepreneur. The couple married in 1982 and have three children.
And Oher likewise shared the story in his own words, in a book, “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond.”
Reach of LRH Foundation growing
Those who attended the annual philanthropy luncheon noted it was well worth the few hours and money spent to take part in the benefit for the Lakeland Regional Health Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children.
Tim Boynton, LRH vice president of development, chief public relations and communications officer, said that the talent recruited by Lakeland Regional Health Foundation for the annual luncheon seems to keep getting better every year.
“You get a lot of energy,” he said, adding it was notable that the “incredible talent” that chooses to come to Lakeland is also a blessing.
Ginny Houghton, chairwoman of the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation Board, noted that the LRH Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children delivered 3,400 babies last year, performed 1,000 pediatric surgeries, and saw 400 Level 3 neonatal patients in intensive care.
The fundraiser enables patients and their families to stay in the community for their care, instead of driving to other cities, she said.
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.