One of the greatest TED Talks that I ever saw was Ben Dunlap‘s brilliant “The Story of a Passionate Life“. I have seen this talk about three times and it never fails to move me.
The main subject of the talk was Sandor Teszler, a businessman who suffered along with so many others during the holocaust in his native Hungary.
Teszler eventually managed to escape Hungary and came to Britain and later to the U.S.A. His business was textiles and he was one of the first people in the postwar period to develop “double knit”, an innovative manufacturing process that he was keen to develop for the huge U.S. economy.
The best place to open a textile mill was in North Carolina in the South. Teszler would eventually open his mill as the first integrated (blacks and whites working together) in the States. He faced opposition and potential danger (from the KKK for example) but he steadfastly refused to be browbeaten and managed to pave the way for one of the acts that managed to transform the southern states.
Teszler and his family settled in North Carolina and one of his sons became a member of the management committee of Wofford College. Later a library would open at the college specifically named after Teszler.
In his eighties and having lost both his sons and his wife Teszler would attend lectures at the college along with the young students. He was, in every sense, a lifelong learner and this is what attracted me to his story as told so wonderfully by Dunlap, the present President of Wofford College.
Today I came across Teszler’s memoirs which he wrote whilst studying at Wofford. They are a great read, telling the life story of this amazing man.
In a section of the memoir, the lifelong learner writes:
” I am blessed with Wofford College; thank God I am able to move and to go five times a week to attend classes; my favorite classes are history, philosophy, and art. Then I have the great happiness to have wonderful professors who are very nice to me and who appreciate my knowledge of this century, especially in the history classes. Because I am an 88 year old man I basically represent the whole century. The whole Wofford campus is for me a savior. I try to get away every day about 9:30 AM. I go to school at Wofford College and attend classes. Lunch I usually spend in the city or with my friends but in the afternoon I am alone and suffer from loneliness. Every day I go to the library for two or three hours and I see my dear friend, Mr. Coburn, who is head of the library now. And he does everything to help me to get the books that I need and want to read. Then when that half day is over I go home. I am able to get over my loneliness because I am still able to read books but not novels or light reading but biographies and history books.”
What can you say when you read this? It is stories such as Teszler’s that are an inspiration to us all and remind us that we are never too old to learn and that learning is the journey of a lifetime.