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17-Fiorello LaGuardia

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17-A Desire to Help

One mother was jogging through the park, pushing two toddlers in a stroller. As they approached a hill, she said - "OK, now I need you to help me." And they did. As she started up the hill, they each said, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. . . " Sometimes it just takes the desire to help and you can find a way.

One person known for his desire to help was Fiorello LaGuardia. LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII. He was adored by many New Yorkers who took to calling him the "Little Flower," because of his name and the fact that he was so short and always wore a carnation in his lapel. In many ways, LaGuardia was bigger than life - he rode the New York City fire trucks, raided city "speakeasies" with the police department, took entire orphanages to baseball games and, when the New York newspapers went on strike, he got on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.

"It's a real bad neighborhood, Your Honor," the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, - "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail."

But even as he pronounced the sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous hat, saying - "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom 50 cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."

The following day, New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while some 70 petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid 50 cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

[Sometimes it just takes only the desire to help others and you can find a way.
Sympathy sees and says - "I'm sorry."
Compassion sees and says, "I'll help." When we learn the difference, we will make a difference.
Steve Goodier]



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Created by Sushma Gupta on January 15, 2002
Modified on 05/05/13