Lessons learned from speaker

It seems that too often we read stories about people who have let attention and fame go to their heads.

There might be book tours, movie tours, appearances at awards shows, not to mention interviews for radio, television and, yes, newspapers. Add it all up, and it’s easy to see how some people can really get caught up in a lifestyle that seems to be perfectly suited for entertainment shows and the tabloids.

And then you have the opportunity to meet Richard Phillips.

By now, his story is familiar – he was serving as the captain of the Maersk Alabama when the container ship was captured by Somali pirates in 2009. After an attempted exchange between crewmembers on his ship, who had captured one of the pirates, and the pirates fell apart, Phillips was taken hostage on a small lifeboat.

The captain was held captive for five days before Navy SEAL snipers eliminated the pirates and rescued him.

He wrote a book – “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea” – that was turned into a movie – “Captain Phillips” – in which he was portrayed by Tom Hanks, no less, and which received numerous nominations for several different awards.

With all of that attention, it would be easy to understand if a person got a little bit carried away with all that buzz.

That’s not the case with Phillips, as was demonstrated to area residents Thursday when he visited Steubenville as part of the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

Phillips was personable and approachable and showed that despite having found himself in the national and international spotlight, he still enjoyed the sea and everyday life in the home he shares with his wife in Vermont.

Those traits came through to everyone who had the chance to meet him, either during a reception at the Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast or after his presentation in the Steubenville High School auditorium.

Phillips took the time to answer questions asked by each person who came through the line to have a copy of his book signed, and was more than willing to pose for countless photos snapped on countless smartphones.

It was a great opportunity to hear and meet a person who had actually been a part of an historical event.

His natural sense of humor came through as he told his story, from his younger days when he worked as a cab driver through his five days spent as a hostage.

That story provided the foundation for the major points he made during his presentation, three things that we all instinctively know are important, but are things that can sometimes be easily forgotten – you are stronger than you know, nothing is ever lost until you choose to give up and that great things can be accomplished through teamwork.

He delivered his message in a genuine way, whether speaking to hundreds in the auditorium or in the much more intimate setting of Dee Jay’s BBQ Ribs and Grille in Weirton, where Phillips enjoyed a late dinner shortly after arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport Wednesday evening.

The conversation covered his run-in with the pirates, of course – Phillips was willing to answer all questions – as well as life in Vermont and the day-to-day joys and troubles that we all face.

He is a well-grounded New Englander with an incredible story to tell, and we’re glad he was able to share it with residents of the Tri-State Area.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)