Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It Goes Like It Goes

"Bless the child of the workin' man
She knows too soon who she is
And bless the hands of a workin' man
He knows his soul is his.

"So it goes like it goes and the river flows
And time it rolls right on
And maybe what's good gets a little bit better
And maybe what's bad gets gone."

David Shire and Norman Gimbel
"It Goes Like It Goes"
From "Norma Rae"

Some famous people died yesterday.

Actor Patrick Swayze died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He made women's hearts beat faster in "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost." He enriched lives with the things he did on the screen. He was 57 — not as young as the character he portrayed in "Ghost," but, like that character, he was too young to die.

Jody Powell, press secretary for Jimmy Carter, died of a heart attack at the age of 65. Those who remember the Carter presidency remember Powell in his 30s. It seems hard to believe that he could be a grandfather — but he was. And, like Swayze, he was too young to die.

Nearly overlooked amid all that was the news of the death of Crystal Lee Sutton, the real–life inspiration for the movie "Norma Rae."

Sutton was 68 years old, a casualty of brain cancer. And she didn't die yesterday. She actually died on Friday. But she wasn't one of the rich and famous, the ones whose deaths are reported on the news wires within minutes. So the news of her death took awhile to get out. It may have been widely reported in Burlington, N.C., where she died. It took longer for the word to reach those outside her native North Carolina.

As I say, she wasn't rich and famous. She knew what it was like to work hard and receive little for her labors. And, while there were certain liberties taken in the telling of her story in "Norma Rae," as there almost always are in any true story that is brought to the screen, it was largely a faithful telling.

And the now iconic scene in which Norma Rae writes the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and holds it up for everyone to see as she stands on a worktable was absolutely true.

I will never forget the first time I saw that scene. A chill ran down my spine.

Sutton was a pioneer who stood up to the rich and powerful on behalf of the weak. She "inspired a whole generation of people," recalled Bruce Raynor, a union organizer who worked with her in the 1970s, "of women workers, workers of color and white workers."

In these recessionary times, we could use a Crystal Lee Sutton to inspire us and help us find our way. But she made her contribution. Someone else will have to pick up the torch.

It goes like it goes.

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