Nov. 23 2009 01:11 PM

My sons recently started talking about being cool, and I recalled my own teenage years and the need to be cool. That driving desire dictated the clothes I wore, the music I listened to, and what subjects I became conversant in. And, yet despite all my motivation and effort, it remained elusive. 

When I look back, I can see that all I really wanted was to be accepted, liked and admired. But, whatever I tried, I never quite felt cool enough. The problem was that I didn’t really understand the term until I’d spent a few years living and working in the real world. 

So, I explained to my kids, “Cool is when there’s a problem and you do not get upset by it. When everyone else is panicking, rushing around and over reacting, the cool person is the one who stays calm, assesses the situation, then makes a reasoned decision on what to do.” 

One day, I’ll tell them about Frances Healan, my friend who completely owned this concept. Mrs. Healan walked with a limp, and I learned that she had a severe condition or injury that could deteriorate and prevent her from ever walking again. That diagnosis was simply unacceptable to her. She had three daughters and two sons, all less than two years apart, with whom she had to keep up. Instead she ignored the pain and struggled to maintain the ability to walk under her own power. I never once knew her to mention the pain she continued to endure. 

I met her when my friend Tony started dating Becky, the wildest of her children, and I dated Becky’s best friend. It was while Tony and I waited for our dates to get ready, that I learned what an amazing conversationalist Mrs. Healan was. She would talk of her family and friends, of movies and novels. Pleasant stories that had no impact on my life or the world, and yet they were irresistibly soothing and peaceful. Meanwhile, with five rambunctious kids and their friends, hers was the house on the street where everything happened. It was a tumultuous environment of laughter one moment and tears the next as young personalities came together then clashed. Nothing ever seemed to rattle Mrs. Healan, she was always calm and relaxed. 

Tony and Becky didn’t last very long, but I refused to give up those wonderful conversations and started showing up just to hang out. Over the years, I realized that whenever my own life got a little stressed, I was drawn to the Healan household. Once there I would just sit and listen to Mrs. Healan’s stories and absorb her serene energy. I was rejuvenated by her presence. 

I never planned any of those visits. I would just start to feel the need, and before I knew it, was in the car driving. Those visits continued for years. Eventually the cumulative responsibilities of work, marriage and children made my life too busy for the simple pleasure of spending an afternoon with Mrs. Healan.

A few years ago she died of lung cancer. Frances was never a smoker, but a critical spot on her lung was missed on a routine chest xray. Her oncologist said that if he’d seen the xray when it was taken he could have saved her life. Despite that Frances Healan was never bitter. 
Even though I had not seen her in years, her children called me to visit on her last day. When I arrived, her daughter Judy said, “Look Mama, it’s Bobby Wilson.” Mrs. Healan raised her head and said, “Bobby Wilson! Who’s dying?” We all laughed. That moment sums up her life for me. Facing death she maintained her sense of humor. She was quite simply the coolest person I’ve ever known. 

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Robert's programs please visit