Two MPT shows chronicle ordinary but remarkable people


November 28, 1990|By Michael Hill

Irene Johnson Dodson has some simple advice for keeping the type of tranquil outlook she and her sister Pearl Johnson have maintained for more than nine decades of life.

She says to just forget about anything that doesn't add to your happiness. If you come across it, just let it go, don't dwell on it.

In "Pearl and Irene," a half hour as simple and profound as that bit of advice on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67 tonight at 10:30, the results of that philosophy are evident as these two Baltimore women seem free of unnecessary burdens, remaining happy, involved and active long after many have succumbed to the weight of the ages.

There's another remarkable woman who will be profiled on MPT this week, Marge Lewandowski of Dundalk. She comes across in "Marge and Walter," a half hour that will be on MPT Friday at 10:30, as a woman who has lived with an outlook much like that of the Johnson sisters.

But finally, and tragically, something came along that didn't add to her happiness that she was unable to slough off -- her husband had a stroke. "Marge and Walter," a product of the University of Maryland at Baltimore filmmaking team of William Whiteford and Susan Hadary Cohen, shows this woman still struggling with daily life nearly a decade after that happened.

"Pearl and Irene," which was produced by Laura Bafford Leslie, is light on the details about the lives of these two women who have run the offices of a group of orthopedic doctors for over 70 years, longer than any of the current physicians there have been alive.

Whatever the details, it seems evident that the way they treat the patients who come into the clinic is probably as important to the patients' healing as the work of the doctors.

Both discuss matter-of-factly various incidents of racism they have encountered -- when they started working, people of color were not often seen in their positions -- but their tone is in keeping with their positive, upbeat outlook. They don't seem angry about the racism, just amazed that anyone could actually be that way.

Pearl and Irene have been honored before. Their employers threw a giant party for them in 1984 commemorating their years of service. Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a resolution commending them.

But this film lets those who have never come across Pearl and Irene know that there's more to their story than longevity. These would be special people at 20 years of age; it's good that they lived to more than 90 so that they get the recognition they deserve.

Though its message is more difficult, in its own way "Marge and Walter" is as uplifting as "Pearl and Irene." Cohen and Whiteford specialize in turning out films about people coping with illness and infirmities, not just in a technical, medical sense, but in a practical and spiritual sense as well.

"Marge and Walter" follows this pair for a year -- she's 71, he's 72 -- what turns out to be the last year of Walter's life. He dies just before their 50th anniversary.

You see the tremendous physical and mental strain the effects of the stroke put on Marge, how her once vivacious and fun-loving husband is now not only disabled, but is also quite plainly a grouch, taking out the frustration he feels on the one he is closest to.

With remarkable insight and understanding, Marge intuitively knows that it is not the man she has loved for all these years who is doing this to her, it is the illness that is burdening both of them. Still, that burden is heavy and at times she breaks under its weight, trying hard never to show that weakness to Walter, knowing that he depends on her strength to replace what his body and mind have lost.

Both "Pearl and Irene" and "Marge and Walter" celebrate the heroic acts that are found in seemingly mundane activities -- going to work every day, being nice to people, taking care of a loved one, keeping a smile on your face even when you don't feel like it because you know it will help someone else. These seem like such common stitches, but these two shows remind us that they provide some of the richest hues in the tapestry.

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