Sally Jenkins caught on to their marital teamwork when she met the Touhys in Memphis in February. The book interweaves the couple's joint narrative with individual chapters given to the voices of Leigh Anne, Sean and their children. That structure derived from Jenkins' immediate recognition that "Sean is a stronger personality with a much funnier and livelier voice than you heard in the earlier book. Everyone knows Leigh Anne's got this big personality and big voice with all that frankness and nerviness. Sean is every bit as large and charming as Leigh Anne is. When I told them my first impression was to let everybody have their own voice, Leigh Anne and Sean both brightened up. Because that's who they are as a family in that house. Everyone is funny, quirky, going off in a different direction, each with a striking personality. They're a family in which everyone will be jabbering at the same time."
Sean grew up lean and hungry in New Orleans only to become a fast-food mini-tycoon, starting with a single Taco Bell franchise. His father, a physical-education teacher at the Isidore Newman School (and a talented, generous coach for the school's varsity teams), suffered a massive stroke at age 41 and "never really worked again." You grow to understand Sean's drive and resilience and to appreciate his sneaky wit. (He compares Leigh Anne to the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail.") In the book, he explains, "I wanted to make a lot of money as quickly as possible. And I accomplished that soon enough. But once I started to making money, I immediately developed the urge to give some of it to kids who didn't have any." By then (page 58), you believe every word.
Leigh Anne has a compelling narrative of her own. Her father was a deputy U.S. marshal "whose attitudes were a function of his time and place and job. … He thought nothing of using the N-word." He also was a conscientious lawman who helped enforce desegregation, and a Christian who didn't merely tithe, but gave more than 10 percent of his income to charity. Her mother "was a go-getter who worked all the time." She "was as expansive and sparkling as my father was flat and terse, and she still is." (Her mother is her partner in her interior-design business.) She "had a habit of looking after stray kids," including Leigh Anne's best friend, who ended up moving in with the family — making her the true precursor to Michael Oher.
But Sean says, "This thing was kid-driven. I didn't give up part of my bedroom, SJ did; I didn't sacrifice my advance classes in senior year to take classes with Michael — Collins did. But they got a brother. If you're trying to score this like a football game, who won?"
Football remains a top Tuohy priority. Their publishers had to agree to release their book before the Ravens opened training camp. "Leigh Anne told them, 'We are not getting in the way of the Ravens,' " Sean recalls. Leigh Anne adds, with proud delight, "We started in February, and on July 13 the book was in the stores. I want all this to be finished so I can take Michael to camp and go to practice and start going to his games again."
The Tuohys' Ravens-centricity extended to the movie. Leigh Anne says she made it clear to Warner Bros. that "Michael worked his butt off to get where he was and the movie is not a factor. The second time they asked about him doing something with the movie, I said, 'What part of that confused you? He will not have anything to do with the opening of the movie. All he is supposed to do right now is play his first year of NFL football.' Everyone on the Ravens came together to support him; they couldn't have been better. He had a great year. He played well. He should have been Rookie of the Year!"
Right after his season ended, Leigh Anne left her younger son in Oher's care for three days. The first day she got an e-mail from the woman taking attendance at Sean's school, saying how sorry she was that Sean wasn't feeling well. Oher lamely explained, "SJ just wanted to sleep in." Wrong answer. That's why, while she takes this trip, Collins has stayed home with her brothers.
Leigh Anne is "helping facilitate" Oher's own book, which he's writing with Don Yeager. "He's having to dig down deep and pull out things he doesn't want to talk about. It's more about his life before what you read about or saw in 'The Blind Side,' and it's more inspirational — more like 'If I can do this, you can do this too.' " When does it come out? "In February. A week after the Ravens win the Super Bowl."
Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy are coming to Baltimore July 23, appearing at BJ's Wholesale Club in Columbia at noon and at the Enoch Pratt Free Library at 7 p.m.
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