Paula Deen and Forgiveness

Published in the Pawtucket Times, June 28, 2013

This week nobody could escape the 24 hour news cycle reporting how American Celebrity Chef, Paula Deen, a product of her Southern upbringing, admitted that she had spoken a racially charged “N-word” decades ago. Once the dust settles, the nation will get to see if one of Savannah, Georgia’s most prominent residents can rehabilitate herself. Will she personally and professionally survive the swift backlash of the racial slur-controversy, or will the pubic respond to her tearful pleas for forgiveness and give her one last chance for redemption?

The Ugly “N-Word”

Deen now joins actors Mil Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Michael Richards (a.k.a., Kramer), reality TV stars, Dog the Bounty Hunter and hotel heiress Paris Hilton, along with musicians John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jennifer Lopez, John Mayers, Eminem, even radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger who all stirred up the public’s wrath by uttering the “N-word.”

The 66-year-old former Food Network host, restaurateur, writer of cook books, actress and Emmy Award winning television personality, now suddenly finds her career unraveling, like many who have used the racially charged “N-word,” one of the most offensive words in the English language, a word that invokes ugly racial stereotypes.

The media reporting details of a May 17 deposition, resulting from a $1.2 million lawsuit filed by a former restaurant manager at the Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a Savannah, Georgia-based restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, created a public firestorm over her use of a very ugly word. Deen stated that she had used the “N-word” at times, decades ago, even detailing her plans to dress waiters at a 2007 wedding as slaves, “wearing long sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties.”

The Food Network quickly responded to news reports about announcing the dropping of her show, “Paula’s Home Cooking,” then announcing Deen’s contract would not be renewed next month. Later the Smithfield Foods, Inc., retail giant Wal-Mart, and Caesars Entertainment followed suit, severing ties with Paula Deen Entertainment.

Many of her business partners and sponsors, including Shopping Network CVC, which sells a line of her cookware, and Random House, publisher of her cook books, are monitoring the situation closely to determine their actions.

Trying to take control of an issue spiraling out of control, a teary Deen created two YouTube apology videos to offer her mea culpa for using racial slurs last week, also making a 13-minute appearance on Today with Matt Lauer on June 16 to address this controversy.

Public relations experts give mixed reviews as to how effective she was in reducing the negative impact on her brand and celebrity image using racial slurs. Deen’s salvation may well rest on the public’s short attention span and their desire to forgive, say the experts.

Circling the Wagons

Although Deen can not shake the financial impact of being politically incorrect, her fans are rallying behind her.

This week, thousands of irate Deen’s fans are rallying to support her by leaving their comments on the Food Network’s Face book page, to support the besieged celebrity chef, saying that the network moved too fast to oust her, even overreacting. Many viewed her sacking as political correctness run amuck, calling for her to be given a pass for the use of the “N-word.”

Just two days ago, a newly created “We Support Paula Deen” Face book page already has 418,452 Likes, with many loyal fan comments urging Deen’s sponsors to give her a second chance. Many noted that people make mistakes in life and who hasn’t told an inappropriate or off-color joke or used inappropriate words in private or with family.

Also, according to The Associated Press, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has agreed to help Deen try to make amends for her past use of the “N-word,” saying she shouldn’t become a “sacrificial lamb” over the issue of racial intolerance. Dean had called him to seek his guidance as to how to recover, noted the news wire.

Bravo for Rev. Jackson, who says in this press report that if Deen is willing to acknowledge mistakes and make changes, “she should be reclaimed rather than destroyed.”

The Baptist minister who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997 says he’s more troubled by racial disparities in jobs, lending, health care, business opportunities and the criminal justice system.

Anne Rice, author of gothic fiction and Christian literature and erotic, best known for her popular and influential series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, joins Rev. Jackson in defending Deen.

On her Face Book Page, Rice says what is happening to Deen is “unjust,” comparing it to a “High Tech Execution,” a witch hunt and public burning that is a “horrible thing to witness.”

Furthermore, best-selling author, Rice, who has written 33 books, all novels except one personal memoir, quips, “It is all too easy to ‘hate’ a witch and join in the “fun” of a public execution, and to feel smug and superior and righteous for doing it. And that is what we are seeing now with Paula Deen. Pure ugliness. This is the very opposite of respect for the dignity of all persons.”

Finally, liberal Bill Maher even goes to bat for Deen on Real Time with Bill Maher in a recent episode on HBO.

The Power of Forgiveness

For those, like Deen, who have made terrible mistakes through their misjudgments and use of inappropriate slur words (like the “N-word”) many rarely survive the backlash of political correctness, even when they plead for forgiveness, as their lives are destroyed.

Deen’s racial controversy can positively impact our society by allowing more dialogue about and to confront both personal and institutional racism. Rather then allowing a single mistake to ruin a person’s life, give the individual an opportunity to take responsibility and learn from their inappropriate behavior and actions. Give them a second chance. What a great celebrity spokesperson Deen could become to bring the races together.

It is so important for individuals to learn to forgive their family and friends who have hurt or disappointed them. So, too must a society do this. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is an international role model as to how forgiveness can become the perfect way to way to heal the nation’s racist tendencies. At press time, the former President remains in critical condition in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, kept on life support, where he is being treated for a lung infection.

Writer Simon Kent, in a June 10, 2013 post on the Toronto Sun’s web site, states that the frail 94-year-old leader’s legacy to the world is teaching us “forgiveness.”

When Mandela’s National African party won the election that would end apartheid in South Africa, he forgave his white political foes, says Kent, noting that the power of forgiveness kept the black majority ruling party from seeking revenge.

Kent said: “He didn’t hate the political system that had barred him from voting.

Mandela didn’t hate the rest of the world that for years had turned its back on non-white South Africans.”

Mandela just “offered mercy both to his tormentors and his foes and urged fellow South Africans to do the same” added Kent. Yes, forgiveness.

According to Kent, at his 1994 inauguration, Prisoner 46664 — Nelson Mandela — had kept a seat set aside for a very special guest he wanted to witness his swearing-in as President, the highest office in the land. This person, one of his former jailers from Robben Island, where he was held for 18 years of hard labor, he said.

If Mandela can easily forgive his former jailor and a white society that kept his black brothers and sisters enslaved for centuries, why can’t we just forgive Paula Deen, for saying the “N-word” decades ago. Simply put, it just seems like the right thing to do.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer covering aging, medical and health care issues. He can be reached at


Childhood Passion for Gardening Blooms in Retirement

Published in Pawtucket Times, June 21, 2013

Looking back over sixty years ago, Michael Chute smiles when he remembers how a childhood hobby, has firmly taken root in his retirement years. After 34 years, Michael and his wife Angelina, closed down their Pawtucket-based sign shop near McCoy Stadium in 2012. Now the retired couple makes use of their combined green thumbs, love and knowledge about rose gardening, spreading the gospel of growing the perfect healthy and attractive rose, through their speaking engagements before garden clubs and in their writings in a blog, newsletters and even a book.

Childhood passions can be ignited in later years, says Michael. “When anyone is introduced to gardening or even sports or reading for pleasure or art or writing at a very early age, it will stick with them for the rest of their lives.” So true.

A Child’s Chance Encounter

In the early 1950s, Michael’s chance encounter with a “neighborhood dad” in his quiet Pinecrest neighborhood, would ultimately lead to his life-long hobby and passion for gardening. From this meeting, the five-year old child would take home a little bit of knowledge about how to grow plants and, along with a few leftover radish seeds, given to him by this older man, to start his own small garden.

Michael said that tiny seedlings soon appeared from watering his seeds everyday. “How else could those hard little brown seeds turn into tiny green plants,” he thought, believing that this must be the result of magic. His mother nodded, when he told her this, agreeing with his assessment.

Now, making daily trips to visit his “gardening mentor,” Michael became to learn more about the basics of gardening, now his new little hobby. “I learned that tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, Ralph Kramden, Ike, and DeSotos were good and that weeds, woodchucks, no rain, stray cats, slugs, grubs, and the Yankees were bad,” he said.

The budding, gardener ultimately learned to tell the difference between good bugs and the bad ones. Even at his young age, Michael would realize that using horse manure, “gardener’s gold,” was one way to separate real gardeners from fakes. Lugging his bucketful of nature’s fertilizer to his home, he dragged it right into the kitchen, saying, “Hey Ma, look what I’ve got.” The “gardener’s gold” went right out the back door, he said, because of his mother’s stern command.

With his radish seeds now six inches high in his backyard, he yanked one out, brushed off the dirt and popped it into his mouth. Beginning to chew the “incredibly sharp intensity of bitter flavor that only comes from very fresh radishes assaulted his tender tongue,” he remembered this resulting in his eyes watering and his ears ring. He promptly spit out the radish bits out.

Even with memories of eating the foul-tasting radish, the youngster continued to garden, even learning the principles of germination. In time, he would have worked his own backyard garden. Over the years, flowers, especially roses, have replaced the vegetable patch of his youth and middle years, he says.

Michael would later meet his wife, Angelina, a Newport native, at the Library, a URI coed who expressed little interest in gardening. The young couple, in their early twenties, married in 1971. One year later, they moved into their newly purchased ranch-style home in Riverside. The young man, remembering his childhood training, began to grow and harvest tomatoes, green peppers, egg-plant, and string beans, even strawberries, plucked from his quarter acre garden plot.

“I grew them, she cooked them,” he said.

Michael’s modest backyard garden steadily grew in size over 20 years with his renewed interest in gardening. Gradually, his three rose bushes, quickly increasing in numbers, would replace his tomato plants. Today, the couple has grown hundreds of rose varieties in their back yard, even digging up their front yard 6 years ago and turning it into a trial area for gardening without pesticides, even picking off by hand pests.

As to his philosophy of growing rose bushes at his home garden, “each rose bush gets two seasons to please me. If not, good-bye,” he says, noting that he only has so many holes in the garden and there is great competition for admission,” he says.

According to Michael, in the early 1990s the URI Master Gardeners asked him to speak about roses at a meeting, this leading to other speaking engagements for the couple. The flower shows bookings followed in the late 1990s and the Chutes began traveling throughout New England and New York to spread the gospel about rose gardening. When Michael and his wife joined rose societies they made new friends, but also gained opportunities to share their growing knowledge about rose gardening with these individuals.

Nationally Recognized in the Rose Business

Today, the Chutes are co-owners of RoseSolutions, a landscape consulting company that offers educational programs, workshops, seminars and consulting services on rose horticulture. They are both certified American Rose Society Consulting Rosarians and University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners. Mike is an accredited ARS horticultural rose judge. They served as Guest Editors of the 2008 American Rose Society Annual; authored the chapter “Roses” in the University of Rhode Island Sustainable Gardening Manual; and were co-founders and past presidents of the Rhode Island Rose Society.

The Riverside couple maintains an active schedule of lectures and workshops throughout the New England area, including the Boston Flower & Garden Show, the Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show, the Newport Flower Show, the University of Rhode Island Symposium and Tower Hill Botanic Garden. They recently were featured on Rose Chat Radio, a nationally broadcast internet radio program.

Publishing the Definitive Book on Growing Roses

“From our many lectures on rose gardening, it became apparent to us from the same questions we got, home gardeners wanted to grow roses but did not know how,” says Michael. “There was no definitive book, specifically addressing rose gardening in New England,” he added, adding that not even an easy-to-follow, well-written hands-on guide to sustainable rose gardening (gardening without the use of pesticides), was not on the market.

“There was a niche we needed to fill,” Michael said.

Ultimately, years of gardening experience would be detailed in a self-published book, Roses for New England: A Guild to Sustainable Rose Gardening. The idea of writing a book on rose gardening in New England initially came from people attending the Chute’s workshops who requested their handouts, recommended that they be compiled into a book.

But, it took the couple over four years to write their first book, published by Forbes River Publishing, in 2010. Four years earlier, they had vacationed in Sugar Loaf Mountain Maine, to ski, says Michael. During a blizzard, that kept them away from the ski slopes, Michael and Angelina penned an outline of the book on a legal pad. Later, an internet search would reveal that no book had been written about growing roses specifically in the New England Region, he added.

While the book probably could have been writing in fifteen months, the longer period of time it took to write gave “us an opportunity to see things we initially did not see,” says Michael.

In the near future look for a sequel to their initial book, says Michael. “We are on it now, the book,” he adds, noting that it will detail tips for easy-care rose gardening; including lists of sustainable rose varieties; short bios of modern rose breeders of such roses; along with information on companion plants.

Do What You Love, But…

Aging baby boomers are living longer and working longer, may find themselves in unfulfilling jobs. Michael warns those hoping to reignite a childhood hobby into a new, challenging, and career in their later years, and should proceed cautiously. “Do what you love but be careful because hobbies do not always segue into businesses,” he says. .

But, for those just learning the art of gardening, Michael recommends, “Don’t make your first rose garden too big even if you’re going to plant lower-maintenance roses.”

To purchase the 146 page book ($21.95, free shipping), Roses for New England: A Guild to Sustainable Rose Gardening, go to Visit the Chute’s blog, too, at

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at

The Little Plaid Guide to Living a Better Life

Published in the Pawtucket Times, June 14, 2013

In just two days, millions of Americans will celebrate Father’s Day. As I penned this week’s commentary thinking of the approaching national holiday, I quickly began thinking of my Dad, who died of a heart attack over nine years ago at the ripe old age of 89. While he had recently been ailing and was well along in years, it was quite a shock to receive the long distance phone call from my sister that he had died.

For many, Father’s Day provides an opportunity to slow down and reflect on growing up with their father or step-father, fondly looking back to earlier times.

The Life and Times of Frank Weiss

There was one thing for sure that I know about my Dad, something I could literally take to the bank. Married for over 62 years, he passionately adored his wife, Sally, who he considered to be the most important person in his life. My twin brother, James, and two older sisters, Mickie and Nancy, and then ultimately his grandchildren, would also be very important to him throughout his long life, too.

As a youngster, I remember Dad’s work ethic, always working hard to support the family, oftentimes sitting, at the wrought iron and glass kitchen table, late into the evening hour working on his weekly reports. Although he worked long hours, Dad always found time to go to a ball game or just spend time with his kids.

Dad was like the Energizer rabbit – he kept working, working and working. There was no retirement for this man, who had worked for over 33 years at Colbert Volks, a well-known woman’s clothing store in Dallas, Texas. Two years after his bypass surgery, my 70-year old Dad wanted to chart a new career course, so he began a second job and worked at C’est Simone, a national manufacturer of women’s apparel, until the mid-80s. Amazingly, during his long career in woman’s retail, he could literally see a style or clothing trend well long before it happened, always predicting what new coat styles would sell in a particular season.

Looking Back Over the Years

I will always remember…

How we shot hoops in the backyard for ice cream. Dad always lost at the last moment– we always won, getting that double-dipped chocolate ice cream as a prize.

At restaurants, I remember Dad drinking cup after cup of black coffee at Luby’s Cafeteria, with the decaf coffee never being quite being hot enough for his taste.

In his later years, Dad would oftentimes reach out to strangers in very simple ways. He always carried that roll of Susan B. Anthony dollars, giving out the coins to the lucky ones who crossed his path. “Don’t spend them,” they’re lucky coins,” he would say. Just before his funeral we found his stash of coins, and everyone who attended the service got their “lucky coin.”

He was a practical joker, but at times a little too stubborn. As a very young child, sitting at a street curb he put his small leg in front of a truck, daring the vehicle to stop. This particular time the joke was on him – the truck moved, his leg didn’t, and bones in one leg were broken.

As a teenager, Dad would tip over outhouses throughout his neighborhood. He would assure me that nobody was in them. Always the practical joker, at his sister-in-law’s house in Pikesville, Maryland, Dad walked over to her neighbor’s house and with a straight face gave him advice on how to plant a tree. Heeding his authoritative advice, the neighbor kept digging the hole deeper, deeper, and deeper, until the ball of the tree was five feet from the top of the hole. Luckily, a local landscaper would come by and inform the gullible neighbor that the hole was too deep.

Throughout his long life, Dad cared about people. During his Army days, as an officer of the day, he ordered a cook to put cold cuts out for a group of soldiers who came by to eat after being out in the rain all day. The watery beef stew was not good enough for these guys, he would later tell me. While his superiors called him on the carpet for that act of kindness, he stood up to the military bureaucracy, demanding them to be accountable to their troops.

By tapping his business colleagues, Dad would successfully raise money for the AMC Cancer Society to help those battling this dreaded disease. Later, he would be recognized by the organization for his fund-raising efforts. I often think, perhaps that is where I get my skills in fundraising.

Life’s Little Lessons

I remember during the ups and downs in my brother and sisters personal and professional careers, Dad was always there giving us practical advice, encouragement, and support, often times through little gifts.

Last week, going through a cluttered desk drawer I found a small book given to me by Dad almost 15 years ago. The inspirational book, Life’s Little Instruction Book, penned by author, H. J. Brown, Jr., from Middle Tennessee, gave simple words of wisdom gleaned from his life experience, as well as others.

This small tome caught the attention of my Dad along with the American public, becoming the first book to ever occupy the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list in both paperback and hard cover formats simultaneously. It has logged more than two years on this prestigious daily newspaper’s best-seller list, including more than a year at the number one spot. The little plaid book was written as a going-away present for Brown’s college-bound son, containing 511 simple suggestions, observations, and reminders on how to live a happy and rewarding life.

So as Father’s Day approaches, memories of my Dad come to me again, giving me his sage advice on how to have a fulfilling personal and professional life. All I have to do is go through the pages of this long lost book he gave me and read the following suggestions, observations and reminders, he marked, with a blue dot, the ones he liked the best.

Here is a sampling:

“When someone wants to hire you even if it’s a job you have little interest in, talk to them. Never close the door on an opportunity until you’ve had a chance to hear the offer in person.”

“Never deprive someone of hope because it might be all they have.”

“When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. Limited funds are a blessing and not a curse. Nothing encourages creative thinking in quite the same way.”

“Give yourself an hour to cool off before responding to someone who has provoked you. If it involves something really important, give yourself overnight.”

“Don’t waste time responding to your critics.”

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with the big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

“Give people a second change, but not a third.”

“Read carefully anything that requires your signature. Remember the big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

“Don’t forget that a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.”

“Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.”

“Judge your success by the degree that you are enjoying peace, health, and love.”

“Seek opportunity, not security. A boat in a harbor is safe, but in time its bottom will rot out.”

“Just to see how it feels, for the next twenty-four hours refrain from criticizing anyone or anything.”

“Don’t be rushed into making an important decision. People will understand if you say, ‘I’d like a little more time to think it over. Can I get back to you tomorrow?”

“Send your loved one flowers. Think of a reason later.”

“Be prepared. You never get a second change to make a good first impression.”

“Select a doctor your own age so you can grow old together.”

“Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on his death bed, “Gee, if I’d only spent more time at the office.”

“Don’t flaunt your success, but don’t apologize for it either.”

“Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”

Most importantly, “Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.”

Brown’s book reminds us the importance of taking simple actions that can lead to a more fulfilling life. It’s a great gift for parent’s to give to their children. To purchase Life’s Little Instruction Book, go to

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at