Ed Eisen, 81, can't sing and dance — but "I sure can talk," says the octogenarian entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and onetime PR man for the Vatican.
Eisen gives talks and hosts discussion panels at retirement homes, libraries, even to groups of folks with memory issues. Boasting a varied career, he hires himself out to tell stories, prompt his guests into heated debates, and generally have fun. One of his most popular speaking programs is titled: "I'm an Octogenarian: What Do I Do Now?"
"Reaching 80 is not a time to count your laurels from a rocking chair," he says. "Lots of folks in their 80s are just beginning to come up for a second breath."
The discussion he hosts centers on "what you can do to bring back life's excitement, to make those fleeting moments really count. Focus on your interests, your hobbies, your job before you retired. Did you know the world can still use your skills? Can you teach? Can you sing? Can you act? Can you encourage young people? It's not too late to write that memoir, to phone a shut-in, to build, to create something bigger than you. We talk about the crazy notion that giving back may be the time to reap real happiness."
Eisen most recently gave that talk at Twining Village in Holland, and he'll speak also on Dec. 5 at Sunrise of Dresher retirement community; Dec. 11 at Brittany Pointe Estates, Lansdale; Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. at Pennsauken Library, and Jan. 16 at the Philadelphia Protestant Home. "I help residents with memory issues talk about their past, so I do that regularly" at retirement homes, he said.
An Abington resident, Eisen grew up as the son of a janitor, and began his career as a reporter. Part of his spiel as a raconteur is stories about the famous and infamous people he interviewed or represented in his six decades. Among them were a U.S. president, two popes, St. Teresa of Calcutta, Joe Frazier, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Jackie Gleason, a mass murderer, and members of Philadelphia's mafia.
Eisen then became the voice of the Vatican during Philadelphia's largest gathering of Catholics in the 1970s.
"I had been a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer and a broadcaster with radio stations on the East Coast. In 1974, I left the news business to join one of the city's largest advertising and public relations agencies, Gray & Rogers. The firm won the Vatican as a client to promote an event called the 41st International Eucharistic Congress held in August 1976, and among those attending were President Gerald Ford, the papal legate who became Pope John Paul II, Grace Kelly of Monaco, some of the church's most outspoken voices against communism, and Mother Teresa. My mission was to bring tens of thousands of pilgrims to Philadelphia during the Bicentennial year," he recalls. The event ended up attracting over one million visitors to Philadelphia.
Eisen also broke bread with Mother Teresa. "That changed the path of my life," he recalled.
"I told her I was Jewish. 'That's wonderful,' she replied. 'The founder of our faith was also a Jew. As Christians we have much for which to thank our Jewish brothers and sisters.' It was a life-defining moment to hear the nun from Calcutta speak. Before she left, Mother Teresa left me these words: 'There are thousands of people in Philadelphia who are forgotten, unwanted. Hungry for love. We pass them by. Love them. Loneliness is the greatest poverty.' She said she'd pray for me." Three months after the 1976 event, he was hired at the Bulletin.
It closed in 1982; so where did a newsman 48 years old find work after getting the ax?
"My dad — a Polish immigrant who scrubbed floors all his life — suggested the office cleaning business was hot. I didn't take his advice. Instead, I became an entrepreneur, and for 28 years I ran my own one-man public relations shop. I retired in 2010," he said. He wrote a memoir, Confessions of a Philadelphia Spin Doctor, about the dark underbelly of PR, which "I hated," he said.
Now in his fourth act, "I've reinvented myself again as a motivational speaker," Eisen said.
He also can host "Sound-Off: Debating the Big Issues of the Day," a 60-minute current events program ripped from the headlines. "It's a blend of CNN and Fox, grilling guests on everything from politics to your tax bill. There's nothing too sacred as you go to the mat with your neighbors."