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ADA leaders welcome members and guests

Sidney Poitier shares lessons of his youth

"Aloha, y'all," said ADA President John Findley, mixing an island greeting with the hospitality of his native Texas to welcome members and guests to Wednesday's Opening General Session of the ADA's 150th Annual Session.

The Association's sesquicentennial, he said, offers "a time to take stock" of the profession's successes over the past 150 years and to look forward to the decades ahead.

Musicians and hula dancers entertained as Dr. Findley, President-elect Ronald Tankersley and Executive Director Kathleen O'Loughlin greeted the crowd of thousands gathered at Honolulu's Waikiki Shell, in the shadows of Diamond Head.

The main event of the evening was the Distinguished Speaker Series appearance of Academy-Award winning actor, writer, director, diplomat and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Sidney Poitier.

The Distinguished Speaker Series has been underwritten in part by the ADA Foundation through a donation from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products, Division of McNeil-PPC Inc.

Another highlight of the evening was Dr. Findley's presentation of the ADA 2008 Humanitarian Award to Dr. Robert Kinsaul of Phenix City, Ala. Renowned for providing volunteer dental care all over the world, Dr. Kinsaul has logged 59 international mission trips since 1976, most recently helping to establish a clinic in India.

"My mission is to help people through dentistry—that's what I love," said Dr. Kinsaul, his wife and family seated front row.

"If you're not already involved," he advised, "consider asking God to increase your capacity to become involved."

Mark Gelbert, Ph.D., Johnson & Johnson's vice president for research and development, introduced Mr. Poitier with a video on the actor's distinguished career narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Then Sidney Poitier came to the stage, tall, slender, perhaps the only man on Oahu wearing a suit and tie. At 82, the hair is a little thinner, the voice a little weaker—but still unmistakable, a lilting accent rooted in his Bahamian childhood, with a touch of Hollywood thrown in.

In a talk that covered about an hour, Mr. Poitier devoted barely two minutes to his long and successful career in show business. His purpose, it became clear, was to share with his audience selected "snapshots" of his life, mainly from his youth, that would show how he had become the man he is today.

Sidney Poitier was born to a poor family that made its living harvesting tomatoes on a small island in the Bahamas and carting them to Florida for sale. It was on one of these visits to the mainland that Sidney was born, two months premature, on Feb. 20, 1927, the youngest of seven children, two girls and five boys.

His parents, Evelyn and Reggie, did not expect the newborn to survive, Sidney's father going so far as to acquire a shoebox meant to be used as the boy's coffin. Then one day, Sidney's mother visited a fortune teller, "a soothsayer," who advised her that her son would become rich and famous, that one day he would "walk with kings."

Other snapshots from Mr. Poitier's early days included the end of his formal education at age 12, being sent to live with his brother in Miami at 15, getting arrested for vagrancy, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time—caught up in a store holdup in 1943, he took a bullet "in the back of the leg," just above the ankle.

"Trauma," he said, "has had a big hand in whatever you see when you look at me."

Along the way, he occasionally benefited from the kindness of strangers. There was the policeman who gave him a small amount of money and directed him to an orphanage in Brooklyn "where I was able to get my bearings" before moving on. And there was the waiter in the New York restaurant where Sidney worked as a dishwasher who helped him improve his reading skills.

But first there were his parents, and especially his mother, Evelyn, whose discipline often came swiftly with the back of her hand. "Her no-nonsense nurturing and molding shaped my boyhood," he said of his mother.

In life, said Mr. Poitier, "it doesn't matter how many times you've been knocked down—it's how you spend your time when you get up."