The biography of a truly exceptional woman, Audrey Hepburn’s son wrote a vivid memoire, complete with memorable photographs. I like to share the books that I read, and this book is too good not to share:
Audrey Hepburn, An Elegant Spirit: A Son Remembers, by Sean Hepburn Ferrer; Atria Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), copyright 2003.
Audrey Hepburn was born in 1929, and died of cancer in 1993. She suffered physical hunger during World War II, growing up in the Netherlands; she also suffered “emotional hunger,” after her father left her and her mother when she was six years old. Her first contact with UNICEF was when the organization helped children (including Audrey) in war-torn Europe.
As Americans, of course, we know her as a premier actress and movie star: Gigi (1951), Funny Face, Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, My Fair Lady, Charade, Paris When it Sizzles, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and even more classic films. She won an Oscar in 1954 for Roman Holiday. There are so many memories of her beautiful face everywhere, but there is so much more to remember.
What most people do not recall about Audrey is that she spent the final years of her life as a volunteer for UNICEF. At that point, what she saw in Africa — Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Eritrea — in the latter 1980’s and early 1990’s, broke her heart. Having experienced the ravages of Hitler’s Europe, she saw the same thing happening to “the children of this world” in Africa. She saw first-hand the “camps” and the genocide “filled with thousands starving to death.” This was a woman who could have lived her life in the Hollywood lap of luxury, but she chose to devote her life to something else – children. Audrey said, “is there anything more important than a child? Is there another time in your life when love, care, tenderness, food, education are more important than in childhood?”
After her passing, the family set up the Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund at the U.S. fund for UNICEF. The fund puts into operation educational programs in four African nations; it seeks to bring basic education to more than 120 million children around the world.
Her insights and compassion remind us of on-going truths. While the statistics from 2003 are dated, of course, they are still evidence of the pain and suffering of people and children around the world who are in need, and the injustices that still exist: “out of the 5.6 billion people that inhabit our planet, 3 billion live on less than $2.00 a day; 1.5 billion live without clean water…..Will it always be acceptable for their children to die of starvation and for our children to be fat?”
In her experience, Audrey Hepburn noted that the people of [Africa], were not looking for charity or hand-outs; “all they need is the assistance to help themselves, which is what they are yearning to do. And UNICEF is giving them a spade, let us say, to dig their water wells. Let it not be to dig the graves of their children.”
There is much more to say about this exceptional life well-lived, but I will conclude my thoughts today with the U.S. government and the Ukraine refugees in my mind:
“Politics are something which are very hard for me to understand, because their machinations are so complicated. Politics, by definition, are supposed to be for the people, for the welfare of people…To respond to human suffering, that’s finally what politics should be, ideally. That’s what I dream about. I think, perhaps with time, instead of it being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics” (Audrey Hepburn).
More next time.