TODAY   |  March 26, 2013

Bob Dotson: Wisdom doesn’t ‘wear a suit’

NBC’s Bob Dotson is one of the most honored correspondents in the television news business; he has traveled millions of miles to tell stories that touch the hearts of people all over the nation. Now he reveals that he has a new book called “American Story” in which he highlights dozens of the stories he’s told over the past 40 years.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're about to tell you about a book you are going to want to buy. for 40 years, bob dotson has been bringing us stories about everyday americans.

>> remarkable people whose life lessons have quietly but profoundly changed our lives and our country. much for the better. watch.

>> 1,000 miles on the back roads here and you won't find one pair of designer jeans. i have spent a lifetime criss-crossing this country listening to your stories.

>> it's like this old country, it's rocky as hell. but it's mine.

>> listening to ordinary people with thoughtful solutions to challenges we all face.

>> never underestimate a small amount of money.

>> a chorus of voices that sang america's dreams. how long did it take to sink in that you'd done the impossible?

>> probably when we were sitting in the oval office with president bush talking about bone fishing.

>> not just our quest for money or fame, the story of us.

>> the book is called "the american story," a lifetime search for ordinary people doing extraordinary things. talk about extraordinary. bob's been at nbc for 40 years.

>> you look good. you look good. well-preserved.

>> you want to see what i looked like when i was 25?

>> we saw. let me get it. let the old one get it.

>> i was dropping my phone. i had to get the phone.

>> hoda woman. i'll hold it the entire time.

>> this book is pretty incredible. you really did find people in the smallest little map dot places around the country who have extraordinary stories.

>> well, i think our focus is in the wrong place. we're looking at congress and celebrities and pop culture for solutions. and in fact great grandma had the solution or grandpa had the solution.

>> they still do.

>> they still do. fortunately nbc has let me travel the world on their nickel for many years poking into the dark colors, shining a light and saying, what can you teach us?

>> what kind of life lessons did you learn in this book?

>> wisdom doesn't always wear a suit. that was the biggest lesson.

>> overalls.

>> yeah. and you don't wait to be dealt a good hand. you play a bad hand well over and over and over again.

>> most of us only get bad hands.

>> exactly.

>> who did that in your book? who had a bad hand and played it well?

>> you name it. there's a lady i found 50 years after the great depression. her name was florence thompson . they don't remember her name but they remember the image of her. she was known as the migrant mona lisa . he was 29 years old, had five children, pregnant with another and her husband just died. there she was. she'd never talked to a reporter before i got there because she was mad because she never got a picture.

>> oh.

>> and so i asked her, i said, what did you do? she said, i dragged 100-pound sacks of cotton. i worked tending bar. i cleaned hospital floors and i raised ten kids.

>> she did what she had to do?

>> yeah. and i asked her, did you ever lose hope? and she said, honey, if i had lost hope, america wouldn't be here.

>> oh, my gosh.

>> wow.

>> so when someone says that, did it take a few years of being a professional person to realize, oh, my gosh, that's gold? or did you just know the minute somebody grins, it's ugly, it's got rocks all over it, but it's mine?

>> well, all of my in-laws are cops and they saw whoever speaks in an interrogation room first loses. because they tell you things that you haven't asked for. so i took that technique and i said, mostly in television we ate dead air . so, question, question, question. me, if somebody said a cliche, i just lean back and they figure i don't know. so they go, dummy, that's why i killed my wife. boom, it's gold.

>> trying to help you out.

>> yeah, exactly.

>> that is great. there was a picture of -- we had a little bit of the video of the paraplegic who climbed the mountain. give us a quick nutshell on that story.

>> mark wellman broke his back in a fall from a climb. several years later he came back and along with his friend did 7,000 chin-ups to go from the bottom to the top of el capitan which is the largest single thing in the world to climb. he did it in one week. we went out there just to do this funny little feature on him and we were there for a week because it kept getting better and better. he made it up and eventually he's the reason -- he's the inspiration for the americans with disabilities act .

>> that's why he was in president bush 's office?

>> absolutely.

>> this book is full of beautiful anecdotes.

>> i just happen to have it sitting right here.

>> it's an awesome book. it will restore your hope in this great country we live in. thank you so much.