Writer urges putting needy above politics

September 22, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Time spent bickering along political lines would be better spent being compassionate and working together to help those less fortunate, an award-winning author told supporters of the Carroll County Children's Fund this week.

"I came to Carroll County in the name of compassion," said Ernest Thompson, who won an Academy Award in 1981 for the script of "On Golden Pond."

"You folks seem to be believers," he said. "Spread the word."

Mr. Thompson, who spent his high school years in Westminster, was the speaker for the group's annual banquet Monday night.

The banquet raised $3,500 for the fund, which helps the families of hospitalized children when they have exhausted all other means of paying the bills.

"You don't need to travel to Maryland to know children who aren't so lucky [to have good medical care]," said Mr. Thompson, who lives in New Hampshire. "What's wrong with passing some form of health care reform? It's better than none."

Through personal examples laced with humor, Mr. Thompson walked his silent audience through scenes of friends and relatives selflessly helping those in need, while he had trouble mastering his fear.

"When my father was dying of cancer, my brother was there to feed him, bathe him and console him," Mr. Thompson said. "I was only good for the daily phone calls and sitting by the bedside telling stories, hoping that my father's bedpan wasn't full or he didn't need to be turned over."

Now, the brothers -- who were "soul mates" in their teens -- don't speak to each other because they've pursued radically different political stances, Mr. Thompson said.

"What was it in my Republican brother's heart that freed him to be there for my father, but now not speak to me?" Mr. Thompson asked rhetorically.

He also spoke of actress Bess Armstrong, a native of Towson, who became close to a child who lived in the same home where she placed her profoundly retarded child.

Even after Ms. Armstrong's child died, she kept in touch with the girl, who has a disease that eats away the skin and eventually body parts such as fingers and hands, he said.

The girl -- who visited Ms. Armstrong on the set of a film she was making with Mr. Thompson -- was eventually adopted by a family that has several disabled children, including twins born without legs after being exposed to radiation in the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

"While I sat nearby, enduring my self-instituted fast and looking in every direction but theirs, she [Ms. Armstrong] held them and kissed them and fed them," said Mr. Thompson, the father of three.

"I wasn't sure my own children should visit the set that day, since I wasn't sure how much they could take."

But his children weren't put off by their visitors' differences and happily played with them all day, Mr. Thompson said. His 3-year-old son, August, instantly took to the twins, who move about on their hands. "He decided that was an extremely cool way to go and traveled with them on his hands," Mr. Thompson said. "There was nothing blocking the kindness from the bottom of his heart."

Grown-ups don't always love so freely, allowing political labels to block them from finding solutions and remembering that the other side is human as well, he said.

"I hated Nixon," Mr. Thompson said. "I thought he was so callous for sending the boys of Carroll County away to Vietnam to be killed.

"But when Nixon's wife died, they showed him weeping, bent over with grief from his loss. It never occurred to me that he was human and had feelings."

We also waste time getting caught up in debates about the president's personal life and morals, he said, noting that Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy all had mistresses the public didn't know about.

"I don't care, and I don't think it's interesting what Pat Buchanan thinks, or Pat Robertson or Pat the Bunny," Mr. Thompson said. "How much valuable tenderness and kindness is squandered on this?

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