The HI Interview – Leigh Anne Tuohy

by Glenn Haussman

You know Leigh Anne Tuohy from her story “The Blind Side.” But did you know she is also an interior designer? We talk with her about the state of design and giving back to the community.

Today we have a special interview for you that you can read excerpts from below or listen the entire chat via Hotel Interactive Radio. We’re changing pace for a day to give everyone a dose of feel good inspiration and to make that happen Mark Viola and I interviewed Leigh Anne Tuohy, who is the inspiration for the book and Academy Award winning movie “The Blind Side.” But not only is she an inspiration for her role in adopting and raising Michael Oher – who has went on to become a pro football player, she is also an interior designer. That’s right we got the hotel angle in there anyway. Aside from operating her own design firm she was featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, has some new hush hush TV projects in the works and has had clients such as Scottie Pippin and Peyton Manning. She also spoke at last week’s sold out BITAC Luxury. We managed to grab her for this great interview. For full effect we suggest listening.


Glenn Haussman: We have Miss Leigh Anne Tuohy. How are you today?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: I’m great, guys. How are you?

Mark Viola: Great.

Glenn Haussman: I am doing really great, thrilled that you are here, and for those of you out there who are unaware of who Leigh Anne Tuohy is, and I find it hard to believe –

Leigh Anne Tuohy: They must be living under a rock.

Mark Viola: Absolutely.

Glenn Haussman: Leigh Anne Tuohy, of course, was subject of the book The Blind Side about her adopted son, Michael, who went into the NFL, and all of the challenges that were faced going on in that. I give you a lot of credit. That’s pretty amazing stuff to be able to bring somebody into your home like that.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Michael Lewis wrote the book The Blind Side and, yeah, and he will be calling me and complaining and whining, which he’s very good at doing. You know, life has changed since Michael Lewis wrote The Blind Side, but it’s changed in a good way, so it’s – we get to do a lot of things we never anticipated or expected to do, but it’s been great.

Glenn Haussman: I’m sure, because you went into this with a true and open heart, you know, and it was not about everything that happened since. And boy, must have been a really big roller coaster for you from then. What was the – what made you get involved in adopting somebody to begin with? That’s a huge commitment.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: You know, it really is, but everything we do in life is a huge commitment, and so it’s just what you choose for your commitment to be. There was no agenda. There was no plan for this. It just happened, and a lot of people find that hard to believe. They’re just so convinced there’s a smoking gun somewhere, and there really isn’t. It was one of these situations we drove by Michael. We realized very quickly that he had a great amount of needs, and we were able to fill them, and Monday led to Tuesday, and a week went by, and then a month. And before we knew it, he was just a member of our family.

Glenn Haussman: That’s really unbelievable to me, because I have two kids, and I know how difficult that could be, but to be able to open up your home to yet another one and somebody who needs so much more than your average child, what was that experience really like? And what did the family feel during that time?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, it bettered our family, I can tell you that. We already had two biological children, and as we tell a lot of people, I’m not sure we really wanted them. We certainly weren’t looking to bring a third one into the fold, and – but, it absolutely changed our family for the better, and I tell people, Michael Oher loves me unconditionally. And it’s an amazing thing, and we all choose what risk we wanna take in life. We choose whether we do this or that.

Mark Viola: Absolutely.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Choosing to adopt a child is one of the greatest things that you can do, and our family bettered. We really learned about becoming a true family.

Mark Viola: Right.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah, and for somebody who was not an infant when they came into your family it must have been – he must have felt that sense of suspicion, “What’s going on here and a distrust, not because of you, but because of the situation of his life up until he met you.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, all the Michael Ohers of the world do, and let’s face it, guys, Christmas, Hanukkah, these holidays roll around, and that’s when we kinda make ourself feel good, and we go get something and we take it to those in need, and they know that. They think, “Oh, here come the white people. They’re gonna throw us a gift and make themselves feel better.” And that’s just the environment they’ve been raised in, so you do have to overcome a lot of obstacles, but let’s face it, you start a new job, there’s obstacles to overcome.

Glenn Haussman: Of course.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: You gotta learn the players. You gotta learn – and that’s life. Life is a game. I don’t care whether you’re trying to make a little league baseball team adopt a child or get married – when you first get married you gotta figure it out, so you know?

Glenn Haussman: You got that right. All right, so I wanna know, what is that fire that burns inside you that keeps you motivated, because you’ve not only been successful at raising children that have gone on to become successful, but you’ve also had an interior design store. Now you’ve turned this into speaking engagements throughout the country, including our event this afternoon. You’ve turned this into going ahead and doing TV shows, like being a designer on Extreme Makeover, and you have more things that are gonna be coming down the pike. What is it that keeps you moving forward?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, what keeps me moving forward is we don’t look at people the same way anymore. That’s the one negative about this ride we’ve been on with Michael is that we walk by people and we realize what potential and value that they can have and strictly by investing time in them. And I walk by somebody, and I’ll go, “Oh, my gosh, if I spend time with them, can they become the next best fireman?” or, “Can they become the next best interior designer?” And that – sometimes I lay my head on the pillow at night and you don’t sleep, because you know there’s people out there that if you offer the least amount of help that it’ll change their life.

Glenn Haussman: So, why do you think you’re like that, because most people are not against helping other people, but they’re so with their own situation –

Mark Viola: There’s not many people out there like you these days.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Did my husband put y’all up to asking that question? [Laughter]

Glenn Haussman: But, you know, there are so many people out there that are very insular with their own experiences. How do you find a way to break out of that and show that love and bring other people in and make them feel that value and have them succeed?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: You know, usually everybody in life experiences some crisis at some point. There’s some atom bomb that’s dropped on you that changes your life, and you hate for it to be catastrophic for that to happen. But, in our lives, this was what changed it for us, and all people, we have realized, are innately good. I mean, we’ve traveled around this country, and we just hear so many great stories, and I hate that you turn the news on, all you hear is negative, but there are some amazing people in this country doing great things.

Glenn Haussman: So, what are some of the strategies that you have in your own life that keep you motivated, keep you positive and moving forward to attain your goals?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, I mean, I’m just a very high-energy person anyway, and I’m a multi-tasker, which that makes it pretty simple for me, unfortunate for my family. And I’m very driven, and this has only caused me to be more driven, because I’m just thinking, “Oh, my gosh, there’s so much work to be done and such a little amount of time to do it.” And that’s just what I implore people, just get out of your comfort zone and look around a little bit, and we’re not telling everybody to go adopt a kid.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: This event that we’re at right here, these people make beauty in various and sundry ways. I mean, there is something that you all can do. Do it within your scope and your life, but just do something. That’s what we want you and challenge you to do. Do something to make a difference.

Glenn Haussman: And I love what you’re saying, because if you are doing something to make that difference and putting out that positive energy, I think that it goes forward. I feel it with negative energy, too. If somebody says something negative to me, then I pass it on to somebody else. So, if we can get into that positive spirit and move that forward and imbue folks that don’t have necessarily the advantages and opportunities that we have with it, then I think that we can, one person at a time, really make great changes in the world.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: You can, one at a time. I mean, that’s – and that’s what we do as a family. Our foundation does that. One person at a time. You sit there and you go, “I’m just this one little simple person in the world. I can’t make a difference.” Well, we tell a lot of people, we were Michael Oher’s only source. We were it. And you will be someone’s only source, so don’t think that you can’t have a positive impact, because I laugh. We’ve all heard the old adage before, “You think one little person can’t make a difference, well go to bed with a mosquito,” and you’ll realize quickly what a little creature can impact you, and so there you go.

Glenn Haussman: What is some advice that you could give to people and some simple ways that they might be able to give back to their community and start creating some of that positive spirit?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, my advice is just to turn around. The view behind you is a whole lot different than the view in front of you, and when you see the lady at the grocery store putting groceries back – open the door for an elderly person. I mean, it doesn’t have to be earth shattering. You do not have to go adopt a 6’-6”, 350-pound black kid. You know, that’s a daunting task for some people, but what we’re asking you to do is not a daunting task. We’re asking you to do the simple. Start there, because what happens is, when you start simple, you wanna do more and more and more. It’s very contagious. It’s very infectious, and you just go, “Wow, that felt really good, so I’m gonna try something different tomorrow. This was good. Let me do – I’m gonna do something grander tomorrow, and then grander the next day.” And it really builds till all of a sudden you find yourself reading to a kid – inner-city kid three days a week and – or you find yourself at the nursing home carrying them outside for a walk. I mean, there are so many things that you can do that don’t have to be just huge, daunting tasks. So, start small and build up.

Mark Viola: Yeah, absolutely.

Glenn Haussman: So, as an interior designer, what are some of the things that you’re seeing out there that you really like and think helps deliver on a great customer experience?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, I mean, you know, service – this is definitely a service-oriented industry, so I think, first and foremost, it’s service. I was telling Mark and the guys earlier that this morning they knocked on my door and said it was my wakeup call, and I was so impressed. I went, “They knock on your door for a wakeup call here?”

Mark Viola: That’s awesome.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Now, I’ve been to a lot of nice – Four Seasons, the Ritz Carltons – they’ve never done that. Well, there’s – there was something – hey, I’m not knocking them, ‘cause – but, there was something wrong with my phone in my room, but I thought that was so impressive, you know.  It’s a very service-oriented – and they came to my room and knocked on the door because they couldn’t get me on the phone for my wakeup call, and that was impressive. That will leave a lasting impression on me from this resort. So, I think it starts there, greeting people when they come in, but I also like a little bit the people – I’m not a go green. I’m not save the whale, tree hugging. I probably use more hot water than I should, but I do like the fact that a little bit of that – throw that flavor in, and I do think that everybody should be a little more cognizant of that, because you do have a little bit of waste in the hotel industry as far as use a half a bar of soap. And there’s all kind of great organizations now. I love the hotels that are finding the people and collecting and putting them together, the soaps that aren’t used and sending them to third-world nations. And I love the fact that hotels and resorts are looking beyond right what’s in front of them to try to help in ways like that.

Glenn Haussman: And the organization you’re speaking of, one of them is called Clean the World, and they – you guys should partner with that out there, ‘cause they’ve really done a great job at doing these things. There’s also organizations that take the partially used amenity bottles, shampoo and conditioner and stuff like that. The same group can do that. There’s a lot of other ways that your hoteliers can pitch in, too.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, even if the people that are listening to me, if you work in the industry, I’m in and out of hotels all the time. I have a lot of day rooms that I’ll go into, and I take all of the products, and I have Ziploc bag, and I throw them in there. And then, I have a bin in my carport. As I come in, I drop them in there, and then I’ll have my assistant – at least once every two months, the bin gets full, literally. I mean, it’s a big bin. And we send it off to either a homeless shelter or a boys and girls club, and we send it to someone that can use them.

Glenn Haussman: Now, before we go, I really do wanna talk about how you feel about the state of design. What are some of the trends that you see out there?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Well, I think the state of design is great. I like it, because it’s everywhere all over the page. For so long hotels were so traditional, and now I like the fact that they’re getting a little more edgy and – because it was either you had like an edgy hotel or you had this staunch just old school. And I like the fact that it’s blended and they’re mixing up, and when they’re redoing, they’re throwing a little bit of eclectic in the room. They don’t necessarily just go in and gut it. They just replace what’s needed, and I like the trends for a little bit simpler and softer. It doesn’t have to be so grandioso. It doesn’t have to be the huge, four-poster bed to be a five-star resort. I mean, it’s – I like the less is more a little bit –

Glenn Haussman: I do, I feel that luxury has become simplified over the years.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Absolutely.

Glenn Haussman: It’s not about everything that’s packed into the room. It’s the quality of the finishing. It’s the quality of the goods themselves, and I think most important it’s the quality of the overall experience that people have. And that gets back to your point about great customer service.

Glenn Haussman: Anything else that you would like to add before we wrap up?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: No, I’ve enjoyed being with two good-looking men this afternoon, lucky me.

Glenn Haussman: Thank you, and I enjoyed your pack of lies, but thank you so much, Leigh Anne. If you wanna reach her, it’s @LeighAnneTuohy on Twitter or the