Jay Leno Always Knew His Dad Had a Big Heart—Then an Unexpected Letter from a Viewer Proved That He Changed Lives
Comedian Jay Leno knew that his father had heart, but one woman’s memory revealed just how big it was.
“A time when America was a lot more racist and segregated than it is now…”
I had very good parents. My mother came to this country from Scotland by herself when she was 11, and she didn’t have much of an education. My dad was kind of a street kid, and he eventually went into the insurance business, selling nickel policies door-to-door. It was the 1930s, a time when America was a lot more racist and segregated than it is now.
One day, my dad asked his boss, “What’s the toughest market to sell?” and the insurance guy replied, “Well, black people. They don’t buy insurance.” My dad thought, But they have kids; they have families. Why wouldn’t they buy insurance? So he said, “Give me Harlem.” He took the Harlem territory and sold nickel policies; every Friday, he would go around and collect the nickel and give his customers a receipt on the policy.
“The man was very kind to her, she said, and his name was Angelo—was this my father?”
When my dad died in 1994, I talked about him on The Tonight Show. I told the story of how he worked in Harlem and how he always taught us to be open-minded and not to say or think racist things. Then one day, I got a letter from a woman who was about 75 years old.
She wrote that when she was a little girl, a man used to come to her house to collect on policies, and he would always bring her a lollipop. She said this man was the only white person who had ever come to dinner at their house and the only white person she had ever had dinner with period until she got to be almost an adult. The man was very kind to her, she said, and his name was Angelo—was this my father?
The letter made me cry. I called her up and said yes, that was in fact my dad, and she told me how kind he had been to her family. Her whole attitude toward white people was based on that one nice man she met in her childhood, who always treated her with kindness and respect and always gave her a piece of candy and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. From this experience, I learned a valuable life lesson: to never judge people and to be open-minded and kind to others.
Check out these random acts of kindness for every month of the year.
For more great life lessons, buy your own copy of The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric.