A chapter in my forthcoming memoir (second of a trilogy) describes encounters with some famous people I have met during my life as a student, athlete, engineer, academic, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author. I hope you enjoyed Part 1, titled "The Blonde-Headed Singer," and I hope you will like Part 2:
THE LITTLE EDUCATOR
In the late 1990s, while running theBecause of my experience in starting and running companies, managing a center which provided assistance to entrepreneurs, and my positions on several
for Entrepreneurship at the , I developed
a close working relationship with the National Business Incubator Association. Despite
the word “National” in its name, the NBIA is an international organization of nearly 2,000 incubator professionals
from 60 countries. These managers run facilities – called “incubators” and
“accelerators” – which house and help entrepreneurial companies during their
startup stages. University
Never being one to turn down an opportunity to earn a handsome consulting fee, I had traveled to
I wheeled my suitcase outside the hotel to an awaiting shuttle. After the driver placed my bag in the luggage compartment, I climbed inside the van. I noticed that all the passengers were women, and that the first and second rows were filled. So, I made my way to the rear and took one of the two empty seats, next to the window.
Despite the fact that the van was nearly full, we were not ready to leave. The driver stood outside, apparently waiting for one more person to fill the only empty seat – the one adjacent to mine. After ten or fifteen minutes, I began to get antsy. There were not many flights out of
“Hello,” I nodded.
“Hello,” she responded as she made herself comfortable.
Finally, the driver jumped in behind the wheel, started the engine, threw it into gear, and we were off to the airport. As we made our way out of the hotel area, my neighbor turned to me.
“So, where are you headed?” she asked in German-accented English.
“Home. I’m flying to
“I’m heading home, too. I live in
After a few moments of silence, she resumed her small talk. I was not anxious to continue because I had noticed that our fellow passengers were turning their heads and listening to our conversation. But, I wanted to be polite and responsive.
“What were you doing in
“I was giving a seminar here at the hotel for the past three days,” I answered.
“Really? I was down here giving seminars, too. Two days ago, I was at
“Entrepreneurship,” I said. “I was teaching a bunch of managers of business incubators how to help companies during their startup period. Most of them have never run small companies, so they didn’t understand the difficult issues entrepreneurs face.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m a small businesswoman myself. I wish I could have learned from you before I started.”
Now, I was getting interested and, despite my discomfort brought about by the eavesdropping women in front of us, I wanted to know more.
“So, what about your seminars? What was the subject?” I asked. As soon as the words left my mouth, I could hear snickering throughout the van, and one woman burst out laughing.
“What the hell is this all about?” I wondered.
“Sex,” my neighbor answered. “I’m a psychosexual therapist.”
Now I seemed to be only one in the van who was not laughing. I was perplexed, embarrassed, and at a loss for words. After a long pause, the woman stuck out her hand.
“Hi. My name is Ruth Westheimer. What’s yours?”
I shook hands with Ms. Westheimer and responded: “I’m Charlie Heller. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Then, suddenly, the fog lifted from my brain. “Are you Dr. Ruth?”
She laughed and clapped her hands. “Yes, I am. You’ve seen my show?”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t,” I admitted. “But, I’ve seen you interviewed several times.”
Now that the air was cleared, our fellow passengers seemed to lose interest in our conversation, and I felt more comfortable. Dr. Ruth was interested in my work at the
“I live for skiing,” she said. “One of the biggest benefits of my fame is that, whenever my husband and I want to go skiing, we have a limousine pick us up at our apartment in Manhattan, drive us to the airport, and a private airplane flies us to Colorado. It’s a tough life.”
“I envy you,” I said, as I tried to imagine this little wisp of a woman bombing down a mogulled, black-diamond run at
“Where did you learn to ski?” she asked.
I told her about starting at a very young age in
“How about you?” I asked, wanting to know not only about her skiing, but about the source of her heavy Germanic accent.
“I was born in
She went on to tell me that she was born in
“What flight are you taking out of
“I’m flying to
Once again, she clapped her hands and smiled. “That’s perfect. I’m on the flight to
The driver took Ruth’s bag to the curbside check-in and I followed with mine, while Ruth waited in the van. After tipping the driver, she joined me and we entered
Finally seated in the comfort of our first-class seats, we had privacy for the first time. Ruth told me how, after the war, she discovered that her family had been wiped out by the Nazis. Alone in the world, she and some friends traveled to
To my great relief, the subject of sex never came up in our conversation. Prior to landing in
“I’ll be happy to do it. But, I get a lot of money for speaking,” she said.
“Ruth, we’re a nonprofit center, part of the university,” I replied. “I’m afraid that we can’t afford to pay very much.”
She smiled and squeezed my arm: “For you, I’ll do it for free. Just give me the date as soon as you know it.”
I was ecstatic. We parted in
“Dr. Ruth?” said one. “You must be kidding! We’d be a laughing stock. This is a serious conference for serious women entrepreneurs. Do you really think they’d want to hear about sex?”
“No way,” said her companion.
I argued, pointing out that Dr. Ruth’s fame would be a drawing card and that she is an entrepreneur in her own right. I got nowhere. Since I had given my colleagues the authority to manage the event, I had no choice but to accept their decision. My last communication with Ruth was a letter in which I lied by explaining that, unbeknownst to me, the organizers of the conference had already engaged a keynote speaker. I thanked her for her kind offer. I was truthful and sincere when I told her that I hoped that we would meet again soon. Unfortunately, that has not happened.