Until just a few days before Christmas, Oprah Winfrey’s presence in the Tri-Counties was much like any of the other dozen or so members of the entertainment and business elite.
Her semi-secluded life included social events held in tents on a lawn adjacent to her Montecito estate. Her purchases put smiles on the faces of area merchants, but most of the time we saw her on TV or smiling at us from a magazine cover at the supermarket checkout.
But something changed for one of America’s wealthiest women this holiday season.
In late December she made a $1 million gift to Cottage Health System, helping to put the region’s largest fundraising effort closer to its $100 million goal.
She made another $465,000 gift to Unity Shoppe, joining other entertainers, like Peter Noone, in reaching out to the neediest members of the South Coast community.
Oprah still spends most of her time in Chicago, but she seems to have grasped the essential truth about our region: it may be home to many wealthy people, but it typically does not contain wealthy communities.
In making these gifts she has done two things.
First, she’s joined the ranks of relatively few in the entertainment industry who truly embrace the communities where they live — at least part time. In our view, the best example has been set by former Dallas TV series star Larry Hagman, who has opened his Ventura County home and his pocketbook to support worthy causes in Ventura and Ojai.
Second, she’s set an example for other wealthy individuals, particularly business and financial types, who would rather live behind their 12-foot tall hedges and rely on others to do the hard work of making sure that there is an adequate safety net and an effective health-care system.
Whether it was the community response to the Tea Fire, the recession with its burgeoning homeless problem or just good outreach by local agencies, Oprah has put the region on her personal agenda. Having Oprah in your corner is not a bad way to start the New Year.
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