Sidney Poitier Sums Up the Meaning of Life

Do you watch CBS Sunday Morning? It is the best thing on television, beating out even Downton Abbey in my book, though that’s not exactly an even comparison. Last Sunday morning I had it on while I was dressing–okay I wasn’t quite dressing I was just getting out of the shower, and there was Sidney Poitier. He in a rather nice jacket and me in a towel and shower cap. Speaking of uneven comparisons.

Sydney Poitier in Patch of Blue promo
Sydney Poitier in A Patch of Blue. In this 1965 movie, Poitier was the first black actor to kiss a white woman on screen.

I have long admired Sidney Poitier for a million reasons.

The CBS piece was wonderful. I had not known he came to this country from the Bahamas at age 16, practically illiterate, and apparently naughty, because his mama had sent him there to go to school under the watchful eye of an older relative.

In Porgy and Bess

He was the youngest of seven, born three months premature, and he nearly died. A palm reader told his mama he was going to be all right and that he would “walk with kings,” as he tells it, and he did.

Poitier - Lillies of the Field
In Lilies of the Field

But for all his stories and his accomplishments, for all the barriers he broke, standards he upheld, and lives he no doubt inspired, what stopped me in my tracks–well I had already stopped and was standing there dripping wet–was his last line.

To Sir With Love

Here, from the CBS Sunday Morning website, where you can read the transcript in its entirety,  is the last portion of Lesley Stahl’s interview, where she summarizes his storied career and gets around to asking him about the novel he’s written.

“…And now, at age 86, after a lifetime of accolades, Poitier has written a novel, called Montaro Caine.

/ Random House

He spent years writing in long hand and on the computer. “Wow, it took me a very long time.”

It’s two genres mixed together: mystery and science fiction. For Sidney Poitier, the novel is a chance to reflect on life and all its meanings.

“I was not intending to make an impression on the people who would read the book,” he explained. “I was finding release for myself within myself. I was looking for who I am at this point in my life.”

“Did you find out?” Stahl asked.

“Somewhat, yes.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m a good person,” Poitier replied.

Whoa, I thought, in my towel and shower cap, oblivious until now to the metaphor of my nakedness. What it said to me was that is all that matters. A life lived his life with integrity and with intention. A life well-lived. A good person.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

CBS News Photo Gallery

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner



  1. I read his first book…an autobiography entitled ‘A measure of a man’ and even though you can tell from watching him in anything that he has ever done, he is truly a class act, transcending but most probably a result of his humble roots!! I will watch this piece and read the book! Thanks for sharing!
    PS…everything that you do is pretty wonderful too 🙂

  2. It is a startling statement – and it breaks through our “aw shucks” social customs about being self-effacing. Generally I think we hope we aren’t bad but are mostly afraid to look very closely at whether or not we’re good. The express answer that most of us settle for is probably somewhere between “good enough” and “not as bad as some” – knowing Hitler has set the far end of the range far enough away that angling someone out of a parking place is not going to register on the scale.

    I’ve always liked the part of the 12 steps that speaks of making a “fearless moral inventory” – but most people are not going to sign up for a program to get to do that… (though some might qualify…)

    And then there’s one of the big scandals within Christian religious life that speaks unequivocally about how God views us – as utterly forgiven and free of sin and loved with an undying love – and then the church (churches) have spent centuries making everyone feel guilty and shameful.

    So Sidney Poitier has arrived in a good place (against all odds) – and, ideally, we can all be making some progress in that direction. Some churches are recognizing that the “good news” is actually good and giving up the “stick.”

    And, yes, we have to deal with failures and times we are not our best selves – and there’s the reality that some people aren’t even trying to get in touch with the goodness of their created identity – or are actively working against it.

    But it’s there. In all of us.

    1. Thank you, Randall, for your always spot-on insight, optimism and humanity. Lest we have doubts, your own “startling statement” here will surely encourage us to believe “It’s there. In all of us.”

  3. Hi! As I was walking to my room at Lyford Cay many years ago I looked up and there was Mr.Poitier walking past me obviously leaving a room near mine.I almost fainted with shock.He was so handsome and polite and wished me a good day.WoW He is a class act!

    1. Yes, Carol, he is a longtime member of the Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, whose membership has been integrated since the club’s inception if I’m not mistaken. “Roots” author Alex Haley was a member as well I think. Thank you so much for writing.

  4. Thank you for this one. I normally don’t read blogs, but I met you once and found you to be a good person. From your writing, I know you are a very deep and thoughtful person. You offer inspiration for finding beauty and meaning in life. I will read his book!

  5. I saw this wonderful piece on Sunday Morning and was touched by the tears in Sidney Poitier’s eyes as he told the story of the old Jewish waiter who stayed with him night after night after the restaurant closed and read with him, not to him, so that he could learn to read. This waiter was also ‘a good person’ and role model.
    Even though he didn’t always have a good life, the fact that throughout his life he can look back and know that he has remained a good person speaks volumes.
    I can’t wait to read his book.

    1. Thank you, Sam. Yes that was an amazing story! To be honest I hadn’t thought much about reading his book, but now I think I will.

  6. You are a class act, Ms. Frances. You lift us all up with your humor, and delight us in all things good. Your writing makes the simple sublime. You open my heart and my soul. Thanks for the blog. It is a treasure.

  7. First let me state that civilization as I know it will end when CBS Sunday Morning goes off the air. I pray it never will. Like you, it has caught me many times in my rushing about, ironic as that the rushing usually involves finding a missing shoe to wear for my weekly spiritual ‘down time.’ A hummingbird mamma, a wrinkled statesman, or just the audio of ‘I am a good person’ stuns me into truthful attention.

  8. Frances, you may not know that our Mama would make my children watch certain classic movies when she was staying with us. One of the last I remember was “To Sir with Love.” They always hemmed and hawed because they were still at the young age where cartoons ruled. But at the end of this movie, they were all in tears, and they couldn’t wait to watch “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on her next visit!

    1. Wow oh wow I do vaguely remember that now. How cool. I remember going to see “To Sir With Love” with her in the Colonial Theater in Tarboro. I was 11; you were 8. It was amazing. She was amazing. Thank you, sister.

  9. Thank you for this piece and your recommendation to read Mr. Portier’s book.. I enjoy seeing your blogs ‘pop up’ into my in-box — usually at a very appropriate time in my life.

    1. Thank you dear Emily, what a compliment. I cannot vouch for the book, mind you, as I have not read it, but I will be eager to hear your comments.

  10. It was circa 1966, at Arthur, THE hot NYC discotheque, when I returned from the ladies room, to the seat in the back room banquette, where space between tables was measured in inches, and I needed to slither into my seat. I was very thin in my black Paraphernalia sheath, but the feathered ostrich cape was difficult to navigate, and the tux attired gentleman I slithered past must have gotten a face full of feathers. Once settled I leaned over to my date and suggested we dance. He leaned over to me and said sotte voce, maybe you would rather sit here with Sidney Poitier. Yes, to my extreme embarrassment, Mr. Poitier was the gentleman who got swiped with the passing feathers. He glanced over to me with a sweet half smile of feigned attack….and then turned his attention back to the lady to my immediate left. Sorry, can’t add her identity to this remembered moment. But that relaxed mixture of well dressed youth and very private celebrities was Arthur in the 60s….a time and place in NYC night life that seems unrivaled by all that has followed hence.

    1. Oh, Chris, what a wonderful postcard you have painted for us, of a time and place indelible and inimitable for those who were in it, and fascinating for those who were not. Grazie mille…

  11. I too, saw the interview and it affected me just as it did you. I remember saying “Wow” right out loud! And then thinking (probably out loud again) if we all could strive to be nothing more than a good person…think of the world we would have!
    I try never miss CBS Sunday morning and thank goodness I didn’t miss that interview…it was elegant as is Mr. Poitier.

  12. Frances, Once again you bring everything into perspective. I too have been a fan for years and have already ordered his book.

  13. I was extraordinarily lucky to sit next to him at a lovely dinner and reception for the first graduating class Of Oprah Winfrey’s “Leadership Academy” for women in South Africa at her house in Santa Barbara.
    He is graciousness personified. He was so interesting and so interested in those girls; (two were seated at our table.
    We both agreed that their poise and lovely behavior were striking and unusual for their age!
    I hope I can find that interview on Netflix or somewhere!
    I absolutely love your blog!!
    p.s. I just discovered through my friend and client Laura, that you had lunch with Laura and my daughter, Ella, and others! (at my favorite place, Rose Story Farm)!!

    1. Greetings Penelope and thank you for sharing your wonderful story, wow. You can see–or at least read–the CBS piece by clicking on th link in the blog post. Loved meeting your daughter Laura. I guess the apple does not fall far from the tree.

      1. Oops – Laura of course is your daughter Ella’s friend. I loved meeting Ella, too! 😉 So many great gals in SB – I feel sooooo lucky.

  14. Oh! There is more! Oprah (she is my next-door neighbor ); invited Sidney Poitier many years ago to her show.
    they had never met…….
    She told the true story of watching the “Oscars” in the year he was nominated for the Academy Awards for the movie…..”Lilies of the Field”. 1963. she said she remembered how the “floor felt” in her apartment in Chicago in the “projects” where she lived with her mother!

    “There was a blanket on the sofa; so the “mice didn’t bite”! She was watching the Academy Awards…….she saw Sidney Poitier arrive in a limousine! She had never seen a black person in a limousine except as a driver! She watched as Sidney Poitier got out of the back of that limousine…..and go in. Then she watched him WIN an Academy Award as “Best Actor”!!
    Oprah..who was (six?) said:
    “I thought to myself; if he can do it; I can do it! And he inspired Oprah to become who she is! She actually had him on her show to TEll him that! I watched it! (until she was my neighbor; I did not watch tv at all!) And then I watched certain things. SHE did!!….I did watch that show! )
    He cried! (tears…..didn’t cry!)

    That is when he told the story of the people who helped him learn to read when he first came to New York at 16. I think this was when he wrote his first book…”The Measure of the Man”!

    Honestly; What a feat! Inspiring Oprah to be who she is! He “wears it well”!

    She said to him! (for the first time…..they had never met!) YOU inspired me!! I am who I am because I watched you and you gave me faith what a black person can do!”

    She said; “I thought to myself; if he can do it; I can do it!

    I wonder if people can see that show! (I have no idea; Netflix…..or something……it is wonderful and astonishing! and quite a few years ago!

    thank you so much for this marvelous blog post!!


  15. Your blog is great here in Istambul. Love the way you include so much with illustration not only in photos but words well chosen and thrifty Hope to see you at home soon Kate

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *