Wally was born in Tallahassee, Florida but moved to New York City to live with his aunt when his parents divorced. He had an interest in cooking at an early age and enrolled in a Foods Trade School instead of attending a regular high school. He dropped out of school to join the Air Force, but eventually got his GED.
When he returned from the military, he went to work for the William Morris Agency as a clerk in the mailroom. Over time he rose to become their first African American talent agent. He was the lead agent for such stars as Simon and Garfunkel, the Supremes, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye. He decided to move to California to set up his own talent agency – hoping that his clients would stick with him. They didn’t and Wally was angry, but he turned his anger into hope for a new career.
Throughout his talent agency career, Wally continued his fondness for cooking, especially chocolate chip cookies. Using a loan of $50,000 from Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy, he created the Famous Amos cookie company. Sales were tremendous, but Wally was not a good businessman. Eventually he had to sell his business. The new owners began to cheapen his cookies, and they were no longer distinctive. Wally was angry, but used his anger to lead to a new hope. He became the national spokesperson for Literacy Volunteers of America. He and his wife became tireless advocates for literacy and other educational causes.
Wally is an example of how to respond to setbacks. He turned his anger into new hopes. Most people find that tough to do. It’s natural to blame others and to live in the past. It’s much tougher to set sights on new hopes and purpose in life. Anger can be a stimulant for new hopes and successes if channeled properly.
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“In some areas I am more noted for reading than I am for cookies.” – Wally Amos