The Common Touch

President Richard Nixon was preparing to announce to the nation that he was resigning his presidency.  He was in tears and who he asked for was Lillian Brown.  When she met with the President, she was able to get him to laugh over a shared story of when they were both locked in a bathroom in the White House.

Lillian Brown was the sixth of seven children to grow up in a home with no electricity or running water.  From this modest beginning, she became a counselor to nine Presidents – Democrat and Republican from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton.

Officially, she was a make-up artist who prepared Presidents to go on TV.  But she was much more.  She brought a common sense farm girl approach to those who were the leaders of the free world.  She helped them in the way they spoke.  She prepared visual backgrounds to make them less intimidating to average citizens sitting in their living rooms.

She advised Presidents on the phrasing of their message, the way they sat, and even their diction.  She was unafraid of the advice she gave.  She told President Kennedy he needed voice lessons.  She argued with President Reagan that he used too much rouge.  She insisted that Sam Rayburn, the powerful Speaker of the House, that he needed to have his nose powdered.  She advised Walter Cronkite, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King on their TV images.  She prepared Jackie Kennedy before she did her famous White House tour.

What’s remarkable about Lillian Brown’s career was that she wasn’t trained to do make-up or in image making.  She simply had the common touch.

The common touch is an ability to see the world as common folks would see it.  Having a common touch also means that you can relate to persons of all types.  She can make a President appear to be less intimidating.  She can also help the powerful relate to ordinary citizens.  Having the common touch also means that you say what you think in a way that others are not offended.

Those with the common touch are not that common.  Those who rise to positions of authority seem to lose their ability to relate to those who have not been as successful.  Those whose positions in life are modest often find it difficult to express themselves sincerely to those in authority.  Lillian Brown’s ability to bridge the gap between those in power and those in more modest positions in life was a rare talent.

Those who are in positions of authority don’t need image consultants, they need advice from people like Lillian Brown who understand what it takes to bring about a common touch to their personas.

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“The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.” – Cicero (Roman statesman)

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