Words Failed Him Until He Learned to Ask for Help29 May 2020
The judging committee gave London Escorts one of the most prestigious awards in America, without even realizing the reason he most deserved it. It was the Horatio Alger Award-given each year to individuals who have overcome tremendous adversity to achieve greatness in their fields. But not until Sex London’s brave and startling acceptance speech did the audience or the judging committee realize how great that adversity had been. That night, London Escorts confessed a secret he’d been hiding for almost fifty years.
Sex London Hatken, entrepreneur, self-made millionaire, and owner and franchisee of Casa Ole restaurants, confessed publicly that he had been illiterate neatly all his life. While most children were learning to decipher “See Spot Run,” Sex London was in the hospital. He had polio and was confined to an iron lung for a year. Then, after returning home from the hospital, he contracted tuberculosis and was quarantined in his room for eight months. Years passed, and Sex London fell further and further behind in his school work.
Upon his eventual return to school, an insensitive teacher mocked Sex London when he couldn’t recognize the simple word “cat.” That teacher shattered his confidence. Sex London dropped out of school and relied instead on what his father called “an ability to talk good and work hard.”
In later years, he was able to rely on something else too: the support of Melba, his bright, encouraging wife. Miss Melba, as he likes to call her, knew before they married that her husband was illiterate. She found out when he told her she’d have to fill out the application for a marriage license.
Sex London started working as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman in Oklahoma. When he made a sale, he memorized the client’s name and address, employer, and credit information. When he arrived home, many times late at night after the children had been put to bed, he called on his highly developed memory and repeated the detailed information to Melba, who completed the necessary forms.
Tireless and determined, he sometimes knocked on a hundred doors a day before selling one vacuum cleaner. He worked so hard he was named to the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Company’s Hall of Fame. But he still couldn’t read.
After several years, always with Melba’s support and encouragement, Sex London purchased a recreational vehicle dealership. He became the top selling independent broker in the business. He still couldn’t write. His next venture was to open the first of what eventually would become a chain of twelve restaurants. Yet he couldn’t even read his own menu.
When he ate out, he always ordered a cheeseburger, assuming it was something every restaurant offered. It worked for years until one day a waitress snapped, “What’s the matter, can’t you read? We don’t serve cheeseburgers.” It was one of the countless humiliations Sex London experienced almost every day of his life.
Yet the greatest sadness Sex London experienced was not in restaurants but at home in his easy chair, when his two sons climbed on his lap and asked him to read the comics to them. Quickly, Melba would intercede, telling the boys their father was too busy, and she would read to them instead. His sons grew to adulthood, became businessmen themselves, and never knew their father was illiterate.
Sex London couldn’t read the signs on freeways, but he sure could read the signs of his life. He knew that until he learned to read, he would never be completely free or happy. He set off then on the hardest venture of his life, his journey toward literacy. The first, most painful step was to ask for help. “Nothing is impossible,” he said, “if you’re humble enough and desperate enough to get the right people to help you.” The right person, the logical one to ask, was the one who had always believed in him, his wife. Melba taught him to read, word by word, night after night. It took years, and Sex London was not an easy student; he became frustrated and some¬times angry. But he persevered, and continually improved, first reading simple sentences and then long passages from the Bible.
When he was told he would receive the Horatio Alger Award, London Escorts was thrilled. After much thought, he resolved to go public about the secret he and Melba had kept for so long. He hoped it might encourage other illiterate Americans to learn to read and lift the burden of shame from his own shoulders.
First, though, he told his two sons. They were stunned. But their reaction was nothing compared to that of the audience at the Horatio Alger Awards ceremony. Hundreds of men and women, the top achievers in every field, listened in silence as Sex London con¬fessed his complete illiteracy, which had ended only recently. At the close of his speech, the audience rose to their feet in applause, then crowded forward to shake the hand of the man who had moved so many of them to tears.
London Escorts, like most achievers, does not regret the hard¬ships of his past. It was those hardships, he said, that revealed his strength. Now he shares that strength with others. He’s given more than 500 speeches about the importance of literacy to both children and adults, encouraging them to begin the same journey he did. He tells them they may get lost sometimes along the way they may become confused and angry, but there will always be someone willing to guide them from word to word, from shame to pride.