Dinner with a Hero

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University) When James and I were invited to a dinner event with Melinda Gates last Monday night, we didn't realize we'd actually be having dinner WITH Melinda Gates. Joining 75 other guests to hear her speak about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for girls in the developing world, we were honored to simply be in the room. In a happy accident of some no-shows at her table, James and I were chosen to fill the seats, quickly finding ourselves sitting next to one of the most powerful women in the world.

Had I known that I'd be having dinner with a hero, I probably would have prepared questions and dressed a bit more professionally, and James probably would have abstained from that pre-dinner whiskey that mixed poorly with his jet lag. But despite our shuffled demeanor, our dinner together was, well, lovely.

Melinda Gates has been a hero for me over the years - a wife, a mom, a humanitarian who cares deeply about overlooked people around the world. I have often wondered what sustains her and why she does what she does. And now I had the opportunity to find out.

I learned that her Catholic faith is the source of her motivation to care for the poor. I learned that her favorite part of her vocation is sitting with women in communities around the world and listening to their struggles, their ideas, their hopes. She never really wanted to be the public voice in connection to her philanthropy, but she has learned how crucial it is to share the stories of those whose voices are not being heard. She spoke about how the stories of the poor have moved her and compelled her to have to do something about it. Knowing these women around the world makes it personal for her. She can't ignore those she has met.

She asked us about baby Jude and our thoughts on taking him to Africa with us, offering us stories of what it has been like for her and Bill to bring their three children along with them around the world. She talked about the joy in service and philanthropy - that she and Bill could essentially be doing anything else, but they chose this because they believe in it and it gives them joy.

Though my station in life is quite different from that of Melinda Gates, I found myself wanting to be her when I grow up. She is driven by faith and passion, grounded in her commitments, articulate in her vision for change, intentional with people and generous with her time, her resources, and her leadership.

We all need heroes. Men and women whose lives inspire us to our better selves. I feel so lucky to have spent a special evening with one of mine.

To honor Melinda Gates and give voice to her and her husband's mission, here are some links tied to the issues they are championing:

Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers & Children Worldwide

A piece that James & I wrote, posted on Gates Foundation's blog

Bill & Melinda Gates' Annual Letter - Dispelling myths about foreign aid