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Simple but important lessons from the illustrious life of Hall of Famer and Associate Supreme Court Justice Alan Page

By Lisa Zimmerman| Engagement Insider

Every profession has its highest rung that is reached by only a select few. It's a level of success that most people only dream of achieving. Now imagine that you are a person who has reached that pinnacle in not just one but two separate careers. And consider that, in addition, you have a third endeavor that rivals the success of the other two.

Think it sounds like an implausible script for a movie? Well, then you need to meet Justice Alan Page. 

Page tries desperately to downplay his awe-inspiring accomplishments. “In hindsight, it wasn’t that big a deal,” he said.

Some might argue that it was, and is, a very big deal.

Born in 1945 and raised in Canton, Ohio (ironically, the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame into which he would eventually be inducted and where he worked as a teenager when it was under construction), Page’s parents instilled in all four of their children the belief that they could do and become anything to which they set their minds. As a child, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Page always had one answer, “a lawyer.” It mattered not that he was African-American, or that his father ran a bar or that many of his relatives worked in steel mills. Page had a goal and he knew working in the dirty and dangerous steel mills wasn’t it.

Page, who speaks purposefully and in measured tones, broke into a chuckle when asked what planted that idea in his mind: “Too much Perry Mason.” He also acknowledged that he was well aware of the income that being an attorney could generate.

But, the foundation for his success in the legal profession ended up being his NFL career. After graduating from Notre Dame, he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 1967 NFL Draft and that was the inception of even greater things to come. 

In 1981 after 15-years of haunting NFL quarterbacks as a defensive end, first as a member of the Vikings' famous Purple People Eaters and then for the Chicago Bears, Page hung up his cleats. In 1988 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 1993 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

At that point, Page was already well into his second career. He had graduated from The University of Minnesota’s School of Law while still an active NFL player and upon retirement became a full-time lawyer. He subsequently became a Minnesota Assistant Attorney General before being elected as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. He was the first African-American ever elected to that court and it is a position he still holds.

As full as his plate was with his legal career and raising his four children, Page wanted to do more. He knew that he could leverage his name and reputation to help others achieve things in their lives. In 1988, together with his wife, Diane, he launched The Page Education Foundation, which offers scholarships to students of color. The grant comes with an added requirement, conceived by his daughter Georgi: recipients must agree that they will complete a minimum of 50 hours of community service annually to a service-for-children project.

“The foundation really comes out of my experience as a lawyer, as someone who has spent many, many years talking with children about the importance of education,” Page said. “Out of my recognizing that education is a tool that can help people overcome whatever hurdles they find in their way.”

In its first year, The Page Education Foundation granted five scholarships. To date, there have been a total of 6,000 Page Scholars. The foundation now has a small, but full-time staff and many of its original scholars, who are now well into adulthood and careers of their own, have returned to work in various ways with the organization that helped launch them toward their futures.

We talk about heroes and role models,” Page said. “We talk about all of our athletic heroes, but most of us are influenced by people we can reach out and touch.” 

As for seeing the accomplishments of the Page Scholars, Page couldn’t be prouder.

“To watch them grow as people, as citizens making their way, is quite rewarding,” he said. It’s been fun because in our daily lives, both Diane and I, we run into somebody in the grocery store and they’re a former scholar and you get to hear their story about what they’re doing and it’s really, really rewarding.” 

His own children are now adults as well and he is equally proud of who they have grown up to be and of the successful careers they’ve created, which include being a paralegal, website designer, lawyer and elementary school teacher.

Asked for his advice to those seeking to carve their way in the world, especially those entering a second phase of their lives as he did, Page offers this bit of counsel.

“Do as well as you can. Work hard at what you do. Recognize that because you’ve had some good fortune you not only have the opportunity, but the obligation, to help others along the way. You really can achieve your hopes and dreams, but things don’t just happen. You have to work at it and you have to prepare yourself for it.”

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