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It was the Spring of 1980. I was living and working in Tucson as sports director at the CBS affiliate, KOLD-TV. I learned that one of history’s greatest athletes was being treated for a terminal illness at the University of Arizona Medical Center.
Jesse Owens.

The news staggered me. I’ve always been a track buff and an amateur Olympic historian. There was no American athlete for whom I had more respect and even reverence. When I was a very young child, my former sprint champion father taught me to revere his name and legacy.
Jesse Owens.

That Jesse Owens. The American hero who debunked Hitler’s myth of Aryan Supremacy by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, right under Der Fuhrer’s nose. Jesse Owens. The American hero who was snubbed by the White House when he returned from The Games.
Jesse Owens, who won a total of eight NCAA track and field championships at Ohio State, but was never awarded a scholarship. Jesse Owens, who had to eat at black-only restaurants and sleep in black-only hotels, apart from his Buckeye teammates.

Jesse Owens, who on May 25, 1935, achieved perhaps the greatest feat in track and field history, setting four world records in a span of 45 minutes.
Also Jesse Owens, who after facing down Hitler was forsaken by his fellow Americans. Four-time Olympic champion Jesse Owens, who returned home only to have to fight to scratch out a living as a gas station attendant, a playground janitor, a dry cleaner and a barnstormer. Jesse Owens raced against horses at county fairs because, as he said, “I can’t eat four gold medals.” Jesse Owens, who never surrendered his dignity.

And now Jesse Owens, who was dying of lung cancer in a Tucson hospital.

I did not labor over my decision. I contacted the hospital, expressed my admiration for Mr. Owens, and requested an extensive television interview. I was of course preparing for, and expecting, my request to be denied. But a day later I got a call from the hospital. “Mr. Owens said yes.”
Mr. and Mrs. Owens were staying in a well-appointed suite at the hospital. His cancer was untreatable. He had been a pack-a-day smoker for 35 years. He was very well aware that he had only a short time remaining.

I was 25. And very nervous, as was the photographer with whom I was working. We were greeted at the door to the suite by Mrs. Minnie Ruth Owens, Mr. Owens’ wife of 45 years. Mrs. Owens was a striking woman with a warm and gracious manner. She led us to a living room in the suite. Mr. Owens rose from his seat to greet us. He was impeccably dressed in a well-pressed shirt, a tasteful tie, a snappy sport coat, sharply creased slacks and mirror-shined shoes. His smile was easy and welcoming. He already knew my name without introduction. His first question to me and my photographer? “Can I get you gentlemen something?”

I was pretty close to tears. I’m pretty close to tears now simply recounting this moment. Jesse Owens, dying of cancer, just asked two young television shlubs if he could get us something, a question he repeated regularly throughout the five hours—five hours–we spoke. Concerned for his health, stamina and comfort, I three times tried to cut the interview short. But Mr. Owens wanted to talk. So we talked.

He spoke of his undying love for his country. But he was candid about the disappointment and even humiliation he had faced. Bitter? No. But honest. I kept watching his body language. At 67, nearing death, his every movement still screamed “athlete.” He seemed genuinely disappointed when we wrapped up the interview. He and Mrs. Owens repeatedly told us how much they enjoyed meeting us.

Yeah. Let that sink in.

It was the last media interview of Mr. Owens’ life.

Two weeks later, on March 31, 1980, he was gone. “Elegant” is not a word I often use. But along with Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Mr. Owens remains the most elegant man I ever met.

It was my privilege.

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Paul's Bio

I clearly have the attention span of your median fruit fly.Look! Airplane!

Sorry. I’m back.

It’s both a curse and a blessing. I’ve never bought this stuff about, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But I do think that a wide range of life experiences helps us grow as people, and helps us better relate to other people. I’ve been fortunate. And I am beyond grateful.

I show up on time. I go like hell. I’m a good listener. I hold myself accountable. I own my mistakes. And I have a natural and an insatiable curiosity. I’m never afraid to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t. But then I try to find out.

The flip side is I’m a lousy ballroom dancer and my clothes sometimes fit me funny.

Stuff matters to me. I care. But while I take that stuff seriously, I try hard to never take myself seriously. As a result, I have sometimes been told, “Paul, it’s hard to tell when you’re serious and when you’re just having some fun. Which is it? Serious or fun?”

My answer is “yes.” But I think that is a legitimate criticism. I promise I’m going to work on that.

This has been the quickest and strangest half-century I’ve ever experienced. During that period, I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities in news and sports journalism across all platforms. I have taught wonderful students at the high school and collegiate level. Always, I learned more from them than they did from me. I’ve been a high school administrator. I spent ten seasons as a high school varsity football coach. I’ve been an advertising executive. I’ve hosted nationally syndicated television entertainment shows. In maybe the biggest honor I ever received, I was selected by NASA to be “Chet The Astronaut” for the “Land The Shuttle” simulator at Space Center Houston. (All I can say there, is “Do as I say, not as I do.” I put that thing in the Everglades more often than not.) Most recently, I just wrapped up a decade as a television news director, during which time our teams distinguished themselves in holding the powerful accountable, achieving both critical and ratings success.

What does all that mean? It means I am profoundly grateful. It also means I’m ready for “next.” So here we are. Radically Rational. It’s an idea I woke up with in 2017. I scribbled “Radically Rational” on a piece of notebook paper and used a magnet to stick it on our refrigerator. I saw it every day, and it just would not leave me alone.

I am second in charge at Radically Rational, LLC. My wife, Jo (also known as BB), is the president. Clearly, I have failed in my attempt to sleep my way to the top of this organization.

I hope you will learn that I’m loyal as a Labrador. But I will admit that this doggie can bite every now and then. My promise to you? I will show up on time. I will go like hell. I will listen to you earnestly and attentively. I will hold myself accountable. I will never be the least bit hesitant to say, “I don’t know,” when I don’t.

But then I’ll try to find out. Let’s do it.