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Jodie Foster could learn from Netsch

Dawn Clark Netsch during an interview with Carol MarJanuary 15 2013. Phoby DMoseley/NBC5

Dawn Clark Netsch during an interview with Carol Marin on January 15, 2013. Photo by Don Moseley/NBC5

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:43AM

Dawn Clark Netsch did something this week that Jodie Foster could learn from.

The iconic Netsch, who has spent decades breaking glass ceilings in the world of politics and law, embraced the meaning of being a public figure at a time when no one would have blamed her if she instead retreated from public view.

On Wednesday, Netsch, 86, told the Sun-Times and NBC5 that she has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The very act of her sitting in front of a camera and microphone took courage. ALS, after all, is like a robbery in progress, slowly stealing the strength of a person’s voice, stamina and movement.

But Netsch, who has fought battles for civil and reproductive rights, campaign ethics and fiscal sanity, knows that whether in victory or defeat, you stand up. And speak the truth. That way, someone down the road might benefit from your struggle.

I bring up Jodie Foster, an actor/director/producer I very much admire, only because her recent speech at the Golden Globes struck me as a failure to listen to her better angels.

Foster, in accepting a lifetime achievement award at 50, offered a lament about how a public figure like herself has had to fight for privacy. And how she has “given everything” from the time of her childhood. It was all about her.

Did the public for whom she performed and from whom she profited receive any respectful consideration in her speech? No, not really.

That’s why spending some time with Dawn Clark Netsch might be instructive.

Like an actor, a politician can’t hope to get far or achieve much without entering into a relationship with the public. The actor or politician puts his or her talent, hard work and time on the line. And the public provides the votes, money and applause to allow that work to continue.

When Dawn Clark Netsch made her historic run for governor — the first woman in Illinois to capture a primary nomination — she too wondered how far she could go in showing the private Dawn. A pool player since high school, she worried about the now-famous “straight-shooter” ad showing her with a pool cue in hand, dropping a ball into a side pocket. Would it be unseemly or undignified? Or look phony even though it was utterly real?

In the end, she opted to do the commercial, trusting the public to believe she was being true. They ate it up. Though her Republican opponent, Jim Edgar, won the election, she won plenty of hearts and respect.

By disclosing she has ALS, she once again shows respect for the public. She wanted people to know why they won’t be seeing as much of her as they once did. And she shed a little more light on ALS.

This Wednesday, Dawn Clark Netsch will, like Jodie Foster, receive a lifetime achievement award. Hers comes from Planned Parenthood.

Netsch says she will express deep appreciation for the award, but even deeper appreciation for all the people who have joined her in the work being honored.

She will, in other words, offer a public person’s gratitude for the public.

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