They came to hear about Morrie and Eddie, two sagacious old men from the books of author and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom. As the featured speaker at the annual fund-raising luncheon for the House of Ruth Maryland, held at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday, Albom didn't disappoint.
But lately, Albom has drawn more attention - notoriety, actually - for a column he wrote last month about Jason (Richardson) and Mateen (Cleaves), two alumni attending a tournament game at their alma mater. Albom, though, had written the column in advance of the game, which the alums ended up not attending, but the piece ran in the Free Press as if they had. In the ensuing controversy, the newspaper suspended Albom but ultimately reinstated him.
Yesterday, Albom steered entirely clear of the incident he has called "the darkest yet most enlightening of my professional life." Asked by a reporter about it after his talk, he refused to comment.
Carole J. Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, said Albom's recent troubles at the Free Press had no effect on yesterday's event.
"We had booked him long before that," said Alexander, who praised Albom's speech.
"The message ... when you receive, you give, pass it on, and that's pretty much what life is about, is a true one," said Alexander, whose group shelters and supports abused women. "The application around our issue is around our continuous call to action that people engage, get involved and support battered women and kids."
Albom moved many of his 680 listeners to tears with stories about the men who inspired his best sellers, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven.
He urged those who work for the House of Ruth to press forward with their efforts even when the work seems tedious and fruitless.
His book, Tuesdays with Morrie, was based on conversations with his Brandeis University professor Morrie Schwartz, who was dying from Lou Gehrig's disease. It has been turned into a play that is touring nationally and is scheduled for the Hippodrome Theatre next season.
His latest work, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, is about an 83-year-old man who is killed in an accident, then discovers that heaven is a place where five people help the deceased understand the meaning of their lives on earth. Albom said yesterday the book was based on the life of his uncle, Eddie.
He said both men's lives speak volumes about receiving through giving.
"Why are you listening to me? You didn't know Morrie. You didn't know my Uncle Eddie," Albom said. "They weren't rich, they weren't famous. They were just nice old men who took time out of their lives to touch me in some small way. And I did something to try to make it back to them.
"Now look how large a classroom these old men have. The work you're doing here is critical. You are touching other people's lives. You're getting involved with people who need help."