Angels & Mentors – StoryCorps

Father and Son Locksmiths Share the Keys to Their Success

For Phil Mortillaro (above right), locksmithing was a summer job that turned into a lifelong passion. He started in the trade shortly after he left school in the 8th grade.

All five of his children spent time in his Greenwich Village shop, but only his youngest son, Philip (above left), has followed in his father’s footsteps.

Philip Jr with his grandmother, Helga Lumen, at Greenwich Locksmiths in 1987.

Father and son sat down for a conversation at StoryCorps to talk about the family business.

Philip Jr. and Phil Mortillaro at Greenwich Locksmiths in 2023. Photo by Brian Pape for The Village View.
Top Photo: Philip Jr. and Phil Mortillaro at their family business, Greenwich Locksmiths, in Manhattan in 2014. Photo by Von Diaz for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired October 17, 2014 and November 24, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Doctor Remembers The Lasting Impact Of A Small Gesture

Robert Carolla was just 11 years old when his brother, John, died of Leukemia. It was a dark and quiet time for the family as they grieved the loss of their youngest child.

Norma Carolla (left) with her sons, John (center) and Robert (right), taken in the early 1950s.
Courtesy of Robert Carolla.

Robert later went on to become an oncologist, helping many patients and their families through treatment, and sometimes loss.

During his career, Robert often reflected on a small gesture from his brother’s doctor and the impact it had on his family as they grieved.

At StoryCorps, Dr. Carolla sat down with his wife, Margaret, to remember how it shaped his own career.

Top Photo: Dr. Robert Carolla and Margaret Carolla at their StoryCorps interview in Springfield, Missouri. By Sonia Kinkhabwala for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Friday, July 8, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“He Took Me Under His Wing”: The Father Figure Who Mentored Aspiring Black Surgeons

As a kid, Vivien Thomas had dreams of being a doctor. He enrolled in college at Tennessee A&I State College, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t afford to continue. But Thomas was determined to make his dreams a reality, and he got a job working under prominent surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Eventually, Thomas became the Director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Thomas was at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. He invented several surgical tools and methods, many of which are still used today. He is most notably credited with identifying a solution for a deadly condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome” — a congenital heart affliction in babies.

During his over four-decade career at Hopkins, Dr. Thomas passed down the knowledge by training dozens of other aspiring surgeons, particularly Black men, like Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris. 

Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.

Many of the men who Dr. Thomas trained had little-to-no formal medical training before they worked for him, including Fred and Jerry.

They came to StoryCorps to remember the time they spent learning and training under Dr. Thomas, and how his mentorship changed their lives.

Dr. Vivien Thomas in his lab. Public Domain. 

Dr. Vivien Thomas never received a formal medical degree, but In 1976, he received an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Thomas died in 1985.

Fred Gilliam started his work with Dr. Thomas shortly after finishing high school. Dr. Thomas encouraged and enabled Fred to continue his higher education. Fred received his Associates degree in Emergency Medical Technology, and he went on to work at the American Red Cross.

Jerry Harris had previously been in nursing school before his time with Dr. Thomas. He honed his skills in pediatric surgery during his time with Dr. Thomas, and later stayed at Johns Hopkins as a coordinator in the School of Medicine. Harris died in 2019.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired July 1st, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: 10 Years After His Murder, A Couple Reflects on His Abortion Care

On May 31, 2009, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his church in Wichita, Kansas. He was one of only a handful of doctors in the United States to perform late-term abortions.

Rabbi David Young and Cantor Natalie Young had gone to see Dr. Tiller in 2006. They’d been expecting their second son, Elijah, only to learn that he’d developed a brain condition that would make it impossible for him to survive on his own.

Ten years after Dr. Tiller’s death, Natalie and David sat down at StoryCorps to remember how he helped them through the darkest time in their lives.

Dr. George Tiller addresses invited members of the Kansas legislature, at his abortion clinic, Monday, Oct. 6, 1997, in Wichita, Kan. Tiller, who was shot in both arms by a protestor in 1993, and whose clinic was bombed in 1986, as well as the site of massive demonstrations in 1991, led clinic tours for the lawmakers and the press Monday, in an effort to enable the them to understand his practice. (AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Rich Sugg)

Top photo: Natalie and David Young at their StoryCorps interview in May of 2019. By Kevin Oliver for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Dr. George Tiller speaking at his clinic in 1997. Credit: AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Rich Sugg.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Originally aired Friday, June 24, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Her Aunt Saw Her for Who She Truly Was

In 2018, at the age of 63, Dee Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. But growing up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950s, she remembers having a hard time fitting in.

At StoryCorps, Dee sat down with her friend, Martha Gonzalez, to remember the one person who made her feel comfortable in her own skin.

Photo: Dee Westenhauser and Martha Gonzalez at StoryCorps in El Paso, TX. By Nicolas Cadena for StoryCorps.

Originally aired April 5, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition. It was rebroadcast on March 11, 2022 on the same program.

From Dire Straits To Friends For Life: How Living On The Road Brought Them Together

In August of 2014, Kat Valentino was living in a run-down motel with her family. They eventually decided to move into a van — a blue, 1991 Ford Econoline.

She’d soon find a community of others living out of their vehicles, mostly those impacted by the Great Recession who had foregone traditional housing, seeking a different way of life.

Along the way she met Vincent Mosemann, who became her friend and later her roommate.

Kat and Vincent came to StoryCorps to talk about what brought them together.

Top Photo: Vincent Mosemann and Kat Valentino at their StoryCorps interview in Oregon on January 26, 2019. By Dupe Oyebolu for StoryCorps.

Originally aired February 4, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bringing Hope and a Love of Horses to L.A. Streets

Ghuan Featherstone grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He has one clear memory of riding a horse for the first time, in Griffith Park, when he was eight years old. It was a feeling that he never forgot, and a lifelong passion was born.

When Ghuan left the military and returned to L.A. years later, he began to immerse himself in the craft of riding and caring for horses. After a tragic fire destroyed his neighborhood stable, Ghuan saw a hole torn into his community. Instead of standing by, Ghuan decided to step forward to found a new stable: Urban Saddles.

Jordan Humphreys riding his horse Winter at the Urban Saddles Stables, in South Gate, California.

He came to StoryCorps with his mentee Jordan Humphreys. At just 13 years old Jordan has become a cornerstone of Urban Saddles.

Top photo: Ghuan Featherstone and Jordan Humphreys at their StoryCorps interview in Los Angeles, California on December 15th, 2021. By Maja Sazdic for StoryCorps.

Originally aired January 28th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“The Black Vote Matters:” How An Army Veteran Inspired A Teenage Martin Luther King, Jr.

Warning, the following story includes a description of racial violence.

In 1945, World War II US Army veteran Maceo Snipes, returned home to Taylor County, Georgia. He voted in the county’s primary in July of 1946, and the next day, he was murdered by a white mob.

The news of Snipes’ lynching — and the killing of four other African Americans — reached a teenage Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then studying at Morehouse College. These murders inspired King to write a letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A teenage Dr. King’s letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. MLK was a Morehouse College student inspired to speak out following Maceo Snipes’ lynching. Courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Raynita Snipes Johnson, Maceo Snipes’ great niece, only recently learned of her uncle’s story when she campaigned for Black voting rights in the 2016 presidential election.

Raynita Snipes Johnson at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The church was a destination for Martin Luther King, Jr. following a KKK bombing that killed four Black children in 1963. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

She sat down with her friend, Gene Robinson, to talk about her uncle’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

Gene Robinson and Raynita Snipes Johnson at their StoryCorps Virtual recording on August 29, 2020.


Find out more about the effort to honor Maceo Snipes’ life at The Maceo Snipes 1946 Project.

Top Photo: United States Army veteran Maceo Snipes. He served in World War II, and was murdered shortly after returning home from service. Photo courtesy of Raynita Snipes Johnson.

This story was recorded in collaboration with the PBS series FRONTLINE as part of Un(re)solved— a major initiative documenting the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold case murders dating back to the civil rights era. More such stories can be explored in an interactive documentary at Un(re)solved.

Originally aired January 14th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The Brooklyn EMT Who Saved A Life and Inspired A Nursing Career

In the summer of 1991, 7-year-old Bryan Lindsay was riding his bike in Brooklyn, New York when he was struck by a van and almost killed.

Rowan Allen was the paramedic who arrived on the scene. Almost 20 years later, he and Bryan came to StoryCorps to remember that day and the impact it had on both of their lives.

But Rowan and Bryan weren’t the only ones transformed by the accident. In 2021, Bryan’s mom, Dorothy Lindsay, sat down for a StoryCorps interview with Rowan to thank him for saving her son’s life, and to tell him how his actions inspired her to pursue a new line of work.

Top Photo: Bryan Lindsay, Dorothy Salmon-Lindsay and Rowan Allen at their StoryCorps interview on June 26th, 2013. By Eve Claxton for StoryCorps. 

Originally aired December 24th, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Strong Lines, Beautiful Lines”: Two Alaska Native Women Make Their Mark

When Grete Bergman was in her 20s, she began to think and dream about having facial markings. This was a tradition rooted in her Alaska Native family from the Gwich’in Nation. But growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, she learned a clear message from her father and grandmother that many of their family traditions would not be tolerated, in or outside of the house. 

Nearly ten years later, Grete met Sarah Whalen-Lunn through mutual friends. Sarah’s father is white, but her mother was Inupaq, so she is part of the Inuit Nation. 

Sarah Whalen-Lunn (L), about one year old, with her mother, Irene June Hayes. Grete Bergman (R) age 6 months, with her father, Grafton Bergman. Courtesy of Sarah Whalen-Lunn and Grete Bergman.

Sarah was also drawn to Traditional Face Markings, because she wanted to reconnect with the customs her family had been forced to abandon. In 2016, she enrolled in a program that taught her how to give them.  

Grete Bergman with her Traditional Markings. Courtesy of Sarah Whelan-Lunn.

This is where their paths crossed, and a friendship began. Their connection has helped revive a traditional practice that had been lost to previous generations of women.

Top Photo: Grete Bergman and Sarah Whalen-Lunn at their StoryCorps interview in Anchorage, Alaska on August 14, 2018. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.

Originally aired October 15, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.