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My inspiration.

MY INSPIRATION

Many of us, I think, can lookback and recall certain specific moments in our lives that take on greater importance the longer we live. "The past has a different pattern," T.S. Eliot wrote, when viewed from each of our changing perspectives.

For me, one of those moments occurredwhen I was 17 years old. I was a high-school senior from Louisville, Kentucky, representing my state in the 1963 America's Junior Miss competition in Mobile, Alabama. Along with the other young contestants, I was doing my best to hold up under the grueling week-long schedule of interviews, agonies over hair that curled or wouldn't, photo sessions, nervous jitters, and rehearsals. In the midst of it all, there was one person who stood at the center--at least my psychological center--someone I viewed as an island in an ocean of anxiety.

She was one of thejudes. A well-known writer. A woman whose sea-gray eyes fixed on you with laser penetration, whose words were always deliberate. She felt the right words could make all the difference. Her name was Catherine Marshall.

From the first moment Imet Catherine Marshall, I was aware that she was holding me--indeed, all of us--to a more exacting standard. While other pageant judges asked questions about favorite hobbies and social pitfalls, she sought to challenge. She felt even 17-year-old girls--perhaps especially 17-year-old girls--should be made to examine their ambitions and relate them to their values.

During the rehearsal on the last dayof the pageant, the afternoon before it would all end, several of us were waiting backstage when a pageant official said Catherine Marshall wanted to speak with us. We gathered around. Most of us were expecting a last-minute pep talk or the ritual good-luck wish, or at most an exhortation to be good citizens, but we were surprised.

She fixed her eyes upon us. "Youhave set goals for yourselves. I have heard some of them. But I don't think you have set them high enough. You have talent and intelligence and a chance. I think you should take those goals and expand them. Think of the most you could do with your lives. Make what you do matter. Above all, dream big."

It was not so much an instructionas a dare. I felt stunned, like a small animal fixed on bright lights. This woman I admired so much was disappointed in us--not by what we were but by how little we aspired to be.

I won the America's Junior Misscontest that year. In the fall I entered Wellesley College, where my sister, Linda, was beginning her junior year. I graduated in 1967 with a B.AS. degree in English and a complete lack of inspiration about what I should do.

I went to my father, a lawyer andlater a judge in Louisville's Jefferson County court. "But what is it that you enjoy doing most?" he asked.

"Writing," I replied slowly. "I likethe power of the word. And working with people. And being in touch with what's happening in the world."

He thought for a moment. "Didyou ever consider television?"

I hadn't.

At that time there werefew, if any, women journalists on television in our part of the country. The idea of being a pioneer in the field sounded like dreaming big. So that's how I came to get up my nerve, put on my very best Mary Tyler Moore girl-journalist outfit, and go out to persuade the news director at Louisville's WLKY-TV to let me have a chance.

He gave it to me--andfor the next 2-1/2 years, I worked as a combination weather and news reporter.

Eventually, though, I began to feelrestless. I'd lie awake at night feeling that something wasn't right. I'd wait for the revelation, the sign pointing in the direction of the Big Dream. What I didn't realize is what Catherine Marshall undoubtedly knew all along--that the dream is not the destination but the journey.

I was still working at WLKY when,in 1969, my father was killed in an auto crash. His death--coupled with my urge to make a change--spurred me in the search for a different job and also seemed to kindle my interest in government, law, and politics. I racked my brain. I put out feelers. And then one of my father's associates said, "What about Washington?"

Several months later, in the autumnof 1970, I said good-by to my mother and Linda and to the good folks at WLKY, and I boarded a plan for Washington, D.C.

Now, I know this may sound incrediblynaive, but when the plane landed at National Airport, I got of with a very firm idea of where I wanted to work. At the White House. True, in the eyes of official Washington I might be right off the equivalent of the turnip truck, but working in the White House was exactly what I had in mind!

Thanks to a few kind words ofrecommendation from a friend of my father's, I was able to obtain an interview with Ron Ziegler, the White House press secretary, and I was hired.

Those were heady days. ThePress Office, located in the West Wing of the White House, was the hub for information. I worked hard and I worked long and loved every part of it.

Then came Watergate.

In the summer of 1974,President Nixon resigned. Immediately I was appointed to his transition team in San Clemente, California.

My assignment on theWest Coast was supposed to last only six months. But a few days after my arrival, the president made a request I was totally unprepared for. He asked me to consider staying on in San Clemente--along with several other writers and aides--to assist him in compiling his memoirs. I had to make a choice, a choice I knew would have consequences.

"Career suicide," some of myfriends mumbled.

But I had worked for this man, andhe had been good to me. Now he was asking me for something I was in a position to give. I have never regretted the decision. I stayed.

One day in the long exile, CatherineMarshall and her hunband, Leonard LeSourd, came for a visit. Once again I felt the searching gaze and, implicit in it, the words, "What is next?" Again I cameto appreciate the immense power of someone unafraid to hold other people to a standard. And again I realized the way a single uncompromising question can force reexamination of a life.

Today, after three years as aco-anchor on the CBS "Morning News," I'm a co-editor of CBS' "60 Minutes" television news-magazine. We work at a breakneck pace with long hours and constant travel. I keep a suitcase packed at all times so that I can be ready to fly out on assignment at a moment's notice.

My New York apartment, which Isee far too little of these days, has become my refuge, the place where I'm free to pad about in jeans and a sweatshirt--no make-up, no contact lenses, no hairspray. Sometimes I unwind by playing the piano. Or I relax by doing something simple but satisfying--baking a pan of muffins or cleaning out an old junk drawer.

When I go out into the world again,I can almost hear a wonderful woman prodding me with her fiery challenge to stretch further and, no matter how big the dream, to deam a little bigger still. God, she seems to be saying, can forgive failure, but not failing to try.
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Title Annotation:Catherine Marshall
Author:Sawyer, Diane
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1987
Words:1238
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