Griffs Notes 1/19/07

I must admit that when one of radio’s most brilliant producers, Shana Pearlman, rang me up this morning and asked if I would go and cover 8-year-old Bindi Irwin’s speech at the National Press Club, I was very skeptical.

Bindi is, if you aren’t familiar, the very cute and apparently media savvy daughter of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin who was tragically killed last September in a bizarre stingray accident while filming a show.

Today, Bindi and her mother, Terri, are wrapping up a national US tour touting Steve’s legacy of wildlife conservation and tourism in Australia.

But the thought of little Bindi being robbed of her childhood – of having too much pressure too fast – seemed to this father as a very bad idea. Here she was sitting up there on the dais, the youngest speaker in history to speak at the National Press Club, seated on a pillow in her chair, with a horde of cameras just a few feet away snapping shots… I felt sad for her.

Then I became a believer. Terri Irwin spoke for about 30 minutes telling the story of a family that was led by her husband’s inspiration, spontaneity, passion and love – for each other and for wildlife in general.

Terri broke down at one point in her speech when she said, “above all things, he (Steve) truly was… the greatest dad ever.” And on numerous occasions, she pointed out that Steve always put family above all things.

However, the message of the speech was that Steve was a trailblazer and worldwide leader in wildlife conservation and introducing dangerous species like snakes, sharks and crocodiles as “lovable critters” to children everywhere.

Bindi only spoke for a brief minute, standing on a raised platform to reach the podium microphone, and her message was that she wanted to become a wildlife warrior “just like her dad.” And I can only imagine that if Steve were watching down from the heavens above, he would probably be very proud of his little girl.

During the Q&A session, Terri told a mixed crowd of reporters, parents and children that people choose different roads on the path to recovery for grief and for her and Bindi – the road of continuing his life’s work and the familiarity of working with the animals was one that they truly needed at this time.

There is one small wrinkle here and that is the reality of Australian tourism needing Bindi too. After researching some Australian newspapers, it seems that there is a real decline in American tourism. So hopefully in the Irwin’s case, this is more of a marriage of convenience rather than overwhelming nationalistic pressure to perform for business.

And when it was all said and done, I did something I have never done before. On my way out of the speech, I happened to duck down a hallway to hit the restroom and ran into Bindi and her mother alone waiting for a special elevator to whisk them out. I instinctively reached into my jacket pocket for my mini-recorder for the exclusive sound bite… then I quickly put it back, smiled at her and said gently, “good job.” My gut told me it was the right thing to do – to let Bindi be for just a moment exactly what she is – just a kid.

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