My grandmother, Myne Freed, was born on February 12th. I always thought it was fitting that she was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. My grandparents were involved in politics in Philadelphia; my grandfather, M. Phillip Freed, held several political posts. When he was appointed to the bench as a judge in 1957, he asked Nana to finish his term as Democratic Chief of the 20th Ward, a post she held for 10 more years. She probably wouldn’t have thought of it this way, but that was quite a feminist thing to do!
In a simple blog post, I could never encapsulate how special a person she was, how much she meant to me and my family, or all the good she did as an engaged citizen with a sense of duty on both a large and small scale. But in thinking about Abraham Lincoln, one apropos story to share is that Nana served on a social welfare committee that was part of President Truman’s Commission on Civil Rights to end segregation and break down the barriers that were keeping African Americans and Jews from purchasing houses in certain “restricted” neighborhoods. She and my grandfather met with the Truman’s when the Democratic Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1948. In fact, my mother tells the story that she had gone to the movies with a date and when the newsreel came on, there were her parents seated on the dais right behind President Truman who was speaking from the podium. A few years ago, I documented this anecdote and much more in my short story, “Nana Buys a Pants Suit.”
I recently found a speech made by historian and Lincoln biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, for the Society for Human Resource Management, on the subject of Lincoln as a leader. My grandmother exuded humility and would never have thought of herself as a “leader.” But after reading the 10 qualities Kearns thought contributed to Lincoln’s great ability to lead,” it really solidified my theory of Nana and Lincoln sharing some similar human traits by virtue of being born on the same day. These include: 1) Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View 2) Ability to Learn on the Job 3) Ready Willingness to Share Credit for Success 4) Ready Willingness to Share Blame for Failure 5) Awareness of Own Weaknesses 6) Ability to Control Emotions, 7) Know How to Relax and Replenish (including the importance of humor as a way to replenish oneself) 8) Go Out into the Field and Manage Directly 9) Strength to Adhere to Fundamental Goals and 10) Ability to Communicate Goals and Vision.
Doris Kearns Goodwin ended her keynote address with the following words from Leo Tolstoy about Abraham Lincoln: His greatness consisted of the “integrity of his character and moral fiber of his being.” Ditto for my grandmother. With each passing year, I appreciate more and more what an inspiration and role model she was. Happy Birthday Nana!