FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving

with Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy | July 14, 2010
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Can you imagine someone wanting to make a movie of your life? Today Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy tell how the movie blockbuster and story of their lives, The Blind Side, came to be. Sean and Leigh Anne also recall their childhoods and tell how their home lives helped mold their philosophy of giving today.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Can you imagine someone wanting to make a movie of your life? Today Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy tell how the movie blockbuster and story of their lives, The Blind Side, came to be. Sean and Leigh Anne also recall their childhoods and tell how their home lives helped mold their philosophy of giving today.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Can you imagine someone wanting to make a movie of your life?

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Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving

With Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy
July 14, 2010
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Bob:  Since the release of the movie The Blind Side, a lot of people have expressed their respect and admiration for what Michael Oher’s parents, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy did for him.  Sean says, “Not so fast.”

Sean:  We get a lot of credit for the kid that he became.  The truth is that’s who he was supposed to become.  I mean, he was always athletic.  He was always talented.  He was always incredibly intelligent.  We didn’t do anything to facilitate that, and that’s what people need to know out there, “Well, this kid’s on hard times, you really need to help.”  You don’t need to help them.  They’re great kids!  All you need to do is facilitate what they’re supposed to become.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 14th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll hear today how God used Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy to help mold the life of their son, Michael Oher. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Can you even imagine somebody knocking on your door and say, “We’d like to make a movie of your story.”  And you go, “Excuse me?!”  I mean that’s got to be almost surreal for that kind of thing to happen!

Dennis:  And yet it did happen to Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, and they join us on FamilyLife Today.  Sean, Leigh Anne, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Leigh Anne:  Thank you!  Thank you for having us.

Dennis:  Little movie called The Blind Side;  what did you guys think when they came to you wanting to make a movie about how you had taken a young man, 16 years old, into your home off the streets and ultimately adopted him.  What was your first thought as they came to you wanting to…?

Sean:  Well, it’s an interesting process, and obviously, it’s not one we had any experience with, so that part of it was kind of interesting.  What happened was that a good friend of mine, a famous author named Michael Lewis, fell upon Michael’s story.  He was in our house; it’s a long story, but he decided to write a book and we said, “No, you can’t,” and we found out it doesn’t matter what you say, people are going to write what they want to write. 

Dennis:  So he went ahead and wrote the book?

Sean:  He did and we became real cooperative.  We figured if he was going to write it, let’s do it as accurate as…

Bob:  Yes.

Sean:  And he did.  He did a great job, and did a wonderful deal.  Actually, two days before the book came out is when we got the book.  We never saw a word of the book until the day before you guys got it at the book store. 

And that afternoon, he called and said, “This book is out and it’s gotten a lot of buzz and they’re going to sell the movie rights tonight.”  And I went, “So?”, and he’s says, “Well, no, you have to have an interest in that.”

And then I went, “Why?”

“Well, because they want to use your name.” 

So we were a little bit involved in that first process, but it was kind of interesting when they say, “You have a conference call” and Steven Spielberg gets on and all these people, and you go, “What?!”  I was sitting out in front of the sandwich shop trying to turn my lights on with a pair of pliers.


I’m not exactly sure I’m qualified for this round table we’ve got going!  So, the easy part of it then was, well, Michael Lewis had written 13 books, and all of them had sold for movie rights, and none of them have been made a movie.  In fact, my wife talked last night and she explained to those people that Michael Lewis’ last words to us were, “Don’t worry they’ll never make this into a movie!”


So, the process was very easy because he assured us it was never going to happen.

Dennis:  So it just seemed like a simple matter at that point?

Sean:  Yes, it was nothing! 

Dennis:  But then?

Sean:  Two years later was when, all of a sudden, it started bubbling and then when Sandra Bullock called Leigh Anne and said, “I’m in your driveway.  Can you open the door?”  Then we said, “Uh-oh.  Something’s going to happen here.”

Bob:  Leigh Anne, what was that like?

Leigh Anne:  Well, can you imagine?  We’d heard all kinds of names.  We heard it was going to be, Julia Roberts, and it was going to be this person, that person, and we really had discounted it by that point.  We thought it wasn’t going to happen because, as Michael Lewis said, “All these books of mine sold to become movies.  They’ve never become a movie.  It will even get some legs, the ball will start rolling, but it will crash at some point and not happen.”

So we literally took him for his word on that. 

Sean:  He lied by the way.

Leigh Anne:  He did lie!


Sean:  That was just a flake.  He didn’t intend to lie, but it was a lie!

Leigh Anne:  It was a lie.


Dennis:  Well, it’s a great story, just about, I think, a courageous couple.  And, here on our broadcast, we love to tell stories about people who express courageous faith and step out and trust God in unimaginable ways.  This certainly is one of those ways.  Taking a young man off the streets, ultimately adopting him and, obviously, the story that came from that, but I want to back all the way up to the homes that you grew up in briefly, and we’ll begin with you, Sean. 

You’re dad was a basketball coach, and was just barely making it. 

Sean:  Yes.

Dennis:  You came from a pretty modest family growing up.

Sean:  Well, I like to say I was closer to the poor people than I was to the richer people.  We certainly had enough to feed and we had a nice house over our heads, but it was never enough seeming to get where we wanted to go.  But we all seemed to be happy…

Dennis:  Well, I got to interrupt you there, because you played basketball, you hold the assist record still at Ole Miss I believe that’s correct…

Sean:  Well if we’re getting braggadocios here, I actually hold it for the entire SEC.

Dennis:  Oh, really?!

Sean:  Yes.  When you only have one thing you’re known for…

Leigh Anne:  You hold several of them, actually.

Sean:   It’s my only thing left, so I got a shirt that says it on the back so if you like to have one, I give them out.


Dennis:  I’ll pass on the shirt, that’s OK.  But here’s what I read in a book you guys are putting out.  You shared how you used to shoot free throws…you said you’d make 50 of them in a row?

Sean:  Well, whatever it took.  I mean, whatever the bet would be I’d put that number out there.  I always seemed to be a quarter short of what I wanted to do for lunch and you get tired of begging for it.  So I’d just sometimes work for it and everybody seemed to fall victim to it.  I was probably in sixth, seventh, eighth grade.  Whatever they said, I could probably end up doing it, and so I did it.

Dennis:  That’s how you got your lunch a lot of times?

Sean:  Sometimes.  I had no risk.  If I missed, it wasn’t like I was going to give them anything, so I didn’t have a whole lot of pressure on me.

Dennis:  So, if you had to describe your dad in one word…

Sean:  He was the best.  I had the greatest dad in the world.  The only problem I had was that he had a critical stroke when he was 41 years old and died when he was one weekend to 49.  So, if I had to do a one word, it would be short.

But the time I had was so magnified by the amount that I had that most people probably don’t get to spend that much time with their dads if they live to 90.  So I don’t feel like I got cheated.  I feel that everyone else got cheated, because I got to be with him all the time.  We lived a block from school. 

In fact, our windows would stay open and the school bell was my alarm clock.  I had seven minutes to get to my house to school.  It was no problem getting there.   And so, whatever day it was I ended up in the gym.  No matter how old I was, two, three, four, all the way up to I was, you know, 15, I saw him every day for four to five hours a day, and people don’t get to do that.  Some do, and when they do they know it, and when they don’t, they know it. 

I was fortunate and unfortunate.  I had both sides of it growing up.  And the bad thing is I can recognize it faster than most people.

Dennis: Leigh Anne, you had a bit different experience.  You had a pretty intense father as well, and it didn’t sound like your mom was light lunch, either.

Leigh Anne:  No, both of my parents were very…there was no grey area in our house; everything was black and white.  You don’t drink and you don’t get drunk; and you don’t speed and you don’t get a speeding ticket.  We had a lot of guidelines in our house to follow.  They were both very strict with us which was…it was always on a loving manner.  It was never harsh or uncaring or anything like that.  They were both very loving parents but they required a good bit out of us and we rose to the occasion.

Dennis:  Share with our listeners what your dad did.  I found that extremely fascinating.

Leigh Anne:  Well, he stole his brother’s birth certificate, first of all, and joined the military early.  He joined the military when he was 16.  They didn’t realize it until he was 19 when at 19, he said, “Guess what?  This really isn’t my real name.  I’m not Wesley Roberts, I’m Stanley Charles Roberts.”  And so, they were very perplexed that he had been in the military three years when he wasn’t supposed to be there. 

And then, he had a military career, and then he retired from that, and he was the youngest policeman ever hired on the Jackson, Tennessee police force, and he just did that for a couple of years and then John F. Kennedy appointed him United States Marshal.  So he was one of the first marshals when they did this revamping of the United States Marshals program in 1960. 

He loved what he did and he was a don’t-mess-around kind of guy, but yet, everything he did as far as family was always done in a very loving manner.  But he was a very by the rules kind of guy, and you knew what he expected of you.  I was just one of those that never wanted to disappoint him.  I always wanted to do what he expected of me.

Dennis:  Well, our broadcasts are about authentic Christians and about people living real life.  What I want to do is go back to the genesis on how you two got together, and I want to ask the head cheerleader over here at Ole Miss, Leigh Anne.  Were you impressed with his behind the back passes?

Sean:  She stalked me.  It was just she stalked me.  She did, outside the dorm…

Dennis:  I knew it was going to be that case, I could tell!  There was a gleam in her eye as she walked in here.

Sean:  The whole, “Don’t let that…”

Dennis:  …still be stalking you, here! 


How did you guys meet, Leigh Anne, and when were you first attracted to him? 

Leigh Anne:  Sean hit a bucket, a free throw.  We were playing Alabama in Oxford and there was like one second left or something.  He hit like two free throws to ice the game and there was a huge campus celebration.  They were ranked.

We were at one of the fraternity houses.  I was a little sister to it, and we were over there after the game.  This is an actual true story. He came in with his girlfriend’s little sister.  She went to a private school up east and the family was in town to watch Sean play basketball, and all I knew was that he was the guy that made the free throws to win the game.  So I just bounced up to him and said, “Oh, I’m so glad we won.  You did a great job.”

Sean:  No, no, no.

Leigh Anne:  And I gave him a little kiss…


Sean:  Yes, she jumped in my arms…

Dennis:  Did she?!

Sean:  and gave me a kiss. 

Dennis:  Seriously?!

Sean:  A big one!

Bob:  In front of your girlfriend’s parents?

Dennis:  On the cheek?

Sean:  No!

Leigh Anne:  And I just turned around and left…

Sean:  And then left!

Leigh Anne:  I didn’t even know what his last name was.  I just knew he was the guy with the cute legs who hit the free throw!

Sean:  I had some explaining to do!


I told my girlfriend’s little sister, who I’m sure was going to call her sister who was up east at school, I turned to her and said, “I promise you.  I do not know who that is!”  Now, what I didn’t tell her is that I’m going to find out!


But, sometimes it’s harder to tell the truth.  I should’ve just come up with a good lie because I wasn’t very convincing, but it was the truth.  I had no clue who she was.

Dennis:  Must have been a good kiss!


Sean: No question about it!


Dennis:  You’re looking at me with a steely look, right now!  You can remember it like it was yesterday!

Sean:  Well, I’m not sure I’ve had one since, the only thing I’m worried about!


Dennis:  Now there’s another steely look occurring!  It’s not at me!

Sean:  That’s why I’m looking at you guys, not her!

Dennis:  So how long before you asked her out?

Sean:  Soon.  Well, I hunted her down that night.  I mean, are you kidding?  I’m not that stupid.


I wasn’t going to let that go!

Dennis:  You’ve made the free throw, and you were afraid you might miss in a week?

Sean:  I mean it was my only chance!

Dennis:  That’s right!

Sean:  You know you don’t get opportunities.  You talk about risk I had a huge risk if I didn’t find out who she was. 

Dennis:  It all of a sudden occurs to me, Leigh Anne, why did you do that?  I mean, why in the world…?

Leigh Anne:  I’m a very touchy, lovey, huggy, feely person!

Dennis:  But I made some free throws in my life!

Leigh Anne:  Not to beat Alabama and before a packed house!

Dennis:  No, that’s true, that’s true! 

Bob:  Nobody’s ever run up and kissed you?

Dennis:  No!  No!


Leigh Anne:  Thank goodness it wasn’t the quarterback for a touchdown because he did not turn out to be much!

Sean:  There you go!

Dennis:  There you go!

Sean:  That’s how deep our relationship started!


So if the football team had been good, I would have never met her!

Bob:  So when he came back around that night and said, “So what’s your name?”

Leigh Anne:  I don’t remember that part.  The next thing I remember is we were flying to Tennessee.  We had a Tennessee road game and we were next to each other on the airplane and chatted a good bit. 

When we got back to Oxford, I remember him saying, “Let me drive you back to the dorm.”  And we sat in front of the dorm and talked until probably five o’clock in the morning. We had a lot of common interests and really started talking and then within probably a month we were going out. 

And that was sophomore year, and then we graduated May fifth and got married June 12th, 1982.

Bob:  Do you think, if you had married the quarterback on the football team, you think you’d ever adopted Michael?

Leigh Anne:  Oh, gosh, I have no earthly idea.  Probably not, I don’t know. 

Bob:  I mean, I just wondered how the two of you have fueled one another in what you pursued together as a couple.

Leigh Anne:  Your earlier question that Sean answered I think kind of correlates to this one.  I think once you do something in your life like this, it’s very infectious. Once you give and you feel the ramifications of what you have done, it’s like you can’t do it enough.  And that’s kind of where we are with this giving and it’s the same situation as with my and Sean’s relationship. 

We have many things in common, and once you start doing something, you really do it because you know it’s the right thing, and you see people’s reactions.  That is the most euphoric thing to know that there are people who are immensely intelligent and immensely talented, and that all they needed was the same opportunities that we’re afforded every day.  When you make those opportunities available to them, it changes their lives.  And that is such an amazing feeling, and really, we’re all charged to do that. 

I mean, the Bible is very specific about taking care of the widows and the orphans.  We challenge people because once you do something…I mean, Sean says it so eloquently.  We are much more in tune with the people that put five dollars in the Salvation Army red bucket and do it with a happy heart than the people that write a million dollar check to Haiti because their publicist told them to do it. 

You just don’t get the same feeling.  When you give of yourself and you see the results of it, you want to continue to do it.  It’s just something that you just look to see, “What can I do next?”  And we both are very passionate about that.

Dennis: You two have done quite well in business in the Memphis area.  Sean, you own a number of franchises all over Memphis.  Yet, early in your marriage when you started out, as I read your book, it sounded like you guys were…

Leigh Anne:  Poor.  Dirt poor!    

Dennis:  Dirt poor.  That was the phrase I was going to use.  Yet, at that time, people were helping you?

Sean:  Yes.

Dennis:  You heard of a group of students who needed medical checkups and it only costs like twelve bucks or something.  Share with our listeners what you guys did because this story of giving goes all the way back to the beginnings of your marriage when you had nothing. 

Sean:  Well, I think we were both raised by givers, and we talked about that earlier.  I don’t think there’s a bigger giver than a school teacher.  I mean, I think because they’re not doing it for the money, so why are they doing it?  Well they’re doing it because that’s in their heart. And then policemen are probably the next ones, if not more.  They put their lives on the line it sure isn’t for the money.

Dennis:  Right.

Sean:  You know, if you talk about getting paid for your risk, the policemen would be the richest people in the world.  So I think we just happened to be raised by two sets of parents that were natural givers. 

She’s like that now!  I tease that I’ve got to come up with a charity that she doesn’t recognize and I’m going to submit it so she’ll send me money (chuckles), because if not, I’m not getting any of this.  She gives away faster than we can get it. 

So I got three charities just socked in a drawer that I’m going to come up with, and she’ll do it!  She’ll send me the money!  No problem.  At least I’ll get some of it back!


I got this thing figured out!  And she was like that earlier.  She was giving away money we didn’t have!

Leigh Anne:  But he didn’t ever say no.

Sean:  Like I had a chance!  You know, when you marry over your head, you do a lot of things that you really don’t think you’re going to do in the front end.  You’re glad you do them when it’s over…

Dennis:  So you’re saying she’s pulled you along in this area, son?

Sean:  No question about it.  There’s no question about it?  I mean, I’ve been the ATM machine now, don’t get me wrong.  She hits a bunch of buttons and all of a sudden she’s where she needs to be.


But she’s the most aggressive in it, and she’s right.  It’s infectious. 

I mean, taking in Michael!  I would have driven right past him.  I’d have driven right past him.  I mean, we all were hungry.  We were going to get breakfast.  And she’s the one who whispered in my ear, loudly, “Turn around.” 

Now, I was glad to do it when we did it.  I don’t recognize it probably as fast as she does. And even when Michael came into the house we get a lot of credit for the kid that he became.  The truth is that’s who he was supposed to become.  We didn’t do anything to facilitate that.  That’s what people need to know out there well, this kid’s on hard times. You really need to help.  You don’t need to help them.  They’re great kids!  All you need to do is facilitate what they’re supposed to become.  

He was always athletic.  He was always talented.  He was always incredibly intelligent.  So, all we did was allow those things to happen and we’d be surprised how many of those kids that on the end don’t come out with that.  Well, it’s just because they didn’t become the people they were supposed to become. 

And so, she’s done a nice job of making me feel that whatever task we take on, A:  we’ve probably already done it, so don’t worry about it. And B:  if we don’t have the money, it will show up. 

That’s what happened.  Yes the school had some kids that needed medical and she raised her hand and said, “We’ll do it.”  And I’m sitting there going, “We’ll do it but how are going to buy dinner?”  It just all comes to works. It all works out.

Dennis:  I want you to comment on this, Leigh Anne, because marriage is a partnership.  It’s a set of two people who each possess gifts they bring into a relationship, and what happens in a lot of marriages is a husband can begin to resent a wife who is really strong and stout and pulling him into something that initially he may not get and may even resent.  What coaching would you have for a wife who is passionate about some areas like you are so that, together as a couple, they can share like you guys are today?

Leigh Anne:  Well, Sean saw like a fox.  I mean he makes me think that I’m the big cheese but the bottom line is everybody knows exactly where the buck stops.  I do have a domineering personality.  I mean, I think women by nature…

Sean:  Boy, is that an understatement!


I was waiting to see if you would add to that.

Bob:  You’re a strong woman, aren’t you?

Leigh Anne:  Yes. 

Sean:  Yes.

Leigh Anne:  I am a Southern strong woman.  The higher my hair is to God, the happier I am, and the whole nine bits for me! 


But honestly there’s nothing I want to do that I don’t want him with me.  So my only advice to them would be your husband always needs to be your best friend.  Everything that you do, they need to be included, and we’re one of these that we just think we need to be…if something happens to Sean, he calls me immediately.  If something happens to me, I call him immediately.  We’re the first people we want to talk to. 

We just feel like we’re so unqualified to answer questions like that.  We’re getting asked all these questions, and I told Sean, I said, “I feel totally unqualified to answer questions like that because I just don’t understand how we got to this position, that people think we have a voice of authority. 

But with that, I certainly am going to try to do the right thing and be a steward of the Message. But there’s always got to be submission on some part.  I’m very guilty of not letting that happen and when I get too much to the right, he’ll have a hook and pull me back in.

Dennis:  Well, I’ve got a feeling, as we were driving to do the interview, I turned to Bob and I said, “You know, it kind of looks to me like some of the things they’ve been through have prepared them for some of the limelight they’re sharing.  Not that anyone’s prepared for it the way you guys have been hit with it.  But as I was thinking about your lives and again I want to say yes, I understand the idea that you’re normal. 

You have an authentic life you’re living.  You’re not perfect. 

But you’re practicing something that is spoken of in Galatians chapter 6.  It says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity,” that’s the key thing, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” 

That’s what you guys have done and I think that’s what more and more families need to be doing today.  We just need to show up in life, and to do good to people where God’s planted us. 

Bob:  And have a predisposition toward giving.  I mean, to have the mindset that we ought to be proactive, thinking ahead about where might I have any opportunity today to give? 

You guys have addressed this in a book that has just come out that you’ve written called In a Heartbeat, sharing the power of cheerful giving.  I think it’s a book that all of us need to be challenged by, frankly, to just stop and consider, “How can I be more a part of what God is doing through giving?”

We’re making the book available this month to listeners who contact us and are able to give.  Make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  And if you’re a new listener to FamilyLIfe Today, if you haven’t been with us very long, we’re listener supported.  The program is on the air because of the generosity of folks who listen and who call in from time to time, or go on our website and make an occasional donation, and we appreciate those of you who have done that in the past. 

Again, this month, if you can help with a donation of any amount, ask for a copy of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy’s new book, In a Heartbeat.  We’re happy to send it to you as our thank you gift to you for your support of this ministry. 

If you’re making your donation online at, just type the word “HEARTBEAT” in the key code box on the online donation form so we know to send the right book to you.  Again, the word “HEARTBEAT” in the key code box on the online donation form at, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. 

Make a donation over the phone, a donation of any amount, and ask for a copy of Sean and Leigh Anne’s book, and again, we’re happy to send it out to you.  We hope God will use it to challenge you to not grow weary in well-doing, but to keep on sowing and in due time, you will reap if you do not lose heart, as Galatians 6 says. 

Again, the website,, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation, and let me just say thanks in advance for your financial support.  We appreciate whatever you’re able to do in support of this ministry, and we appreciate your prayers for what we’re doing here as well.  I know many of you pray for us regularly and we very much appreciate that.

Well, we hope you can be back with us tomorrow.  Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy are going to be here again, and we’re going to here the real story that became the Hollywood movie.  We’ll find out how much is real and how much of it’s Hollywood.  That’s tomorrow. 

Hope you can join us for that.  I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team.  Thanks especially to our friends at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where today’s program was recorded.  On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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