Tuohy daughter, part of ‘The Blind Side,’ visits the First Coast
Collins Tuohy to child advocates: Just ‘stop and turn around.’
Posted: October 19, 2010 – 11:00pm
By Dan Scanlan
After 21 foster homes and living homeless on the street, Michael Oher’s future changed Thanksgiving Day in 2003.
That’s when Leigh Anne Tuohy saw all 300-plus pounds of him walking down a cold Memphis street to his and her children’s school gym wearing only a T-shirt and shorts, and realized something was wrong.
“She looked at my dad and said, ‘Turn around,'” daughter Collins Tuohy related to the audience at the Florida Coalition for Children’s annual conference in Jacksonville Tuesday.
The homeless 16-year-old was going to the gym to get warm. Within a year, the future Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle was Collins Tuohy’s adopted brother. His life story later became the book behind last year’s award-winning film “The Blind Side.” Oher’s story also showed the 650 advocates for abused and neglected children gathered there that anyone they deal with could have a great future, Tuohy said.
That message is why the coalition invited Tuohy to be the conference’s speaker, chairman William Frye said.
“What the Tuohy family did was bring happiness and love as a family to that one young man,” Frye said. “This whole [conference] group is child-care advocates, and what they heard today is if one family can do it, so can I.”
The coalition advocates for the protection of Florida’s abused and neglected children and supports agencies that work on their behalf, such as Family Support Services of North Florida, the conference’s host agency. The conference concludes today at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront.
Oher was one of 12 children whose mother and father provided little or no support as he bounced in and out of foster homes and 11 schools until he was accepted into Briarcrest Christian School. The Tuohys invited the boy to stay with them a few weeks after seeing him on the street, then adopted him. Oher excelled in football and went to the University of Mississippi, where his sister was a journalism major and varsity cheerleader. Oher was Baltimore’s first-round draft pick in 2009 and became a multi-millionaire.
Author Michael Lewis, an old friend of the Tuohys, visited their home and met Oher. He ended up writing about Oher’s life in the 2006 best-seller, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” which became a film with Sandra Bullock playing Leigh Anne Tuohy.
“This was a movie that should have never been made,” Collins Tuohy said. “No one in Hollywood wanted to back it, no one believed in the message.”
Tuohy was animated as she spoke, reminding the advocates how the best time of anyone’s life is when they are giving.
“We had the opportunity to do it with Michael every single day,” Tuohy said. “We were the ones who hit the jackpot. We are the ones who got to give every single day.”
Along with teaching cheerleading to inner-city children in Memphis, Collins Tuohy is on the board of the Making it Happen Foundation, which works to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. As for the movie, it has helped promote adoption, something Tuohy said the foundation will work on long after the movie’s buzz dies down.
So remember what happened that Thanksgiving day in Memphis, she told the audience in closing.
“All you have to do is stop and turn around,” she said. “If you do that, you might be lucky enough to have Christmas every day.”