February 5, 2024

Mental & Emotional Health

#288 ‒ The impact of gratitude, serving others, embracing mortality, and living intentionally | Walter Green

We are not self-made, everybody really knows that. The question is, are we going to acknowledge those people that help make us while they're here?” —Walter Green

Read Time 40 minutes

Walter Green is a remarkable philanthropist, mentor, author of This Is the Moment!, and founder of the impactful “Say It Now” movement. In this episode, Walter delves into the unique insights gained from his challenging upbringing, discusses embracing mortality, and highlights the mindset of “finishing strong.” He shares insights on intentionality, thinking in reverse, saying “no,” prioritizing relationships, and the essence of focusing on others. The conversation focuses on the “Say It Now” movement, which stresses the importance of expressing sentiments to loved ones well before the end of life.


We discuss:

  • How Peter and Walter met through Ric Elias [2:45];
  • The unique perspectives and life lessons provided by Walter’s challenging childhood [5:30];
  • Walter’s harrowing experience with a sudden mental breakdown and his subsequent recovery with the help of therapy [11:15];
  • A diverse professional journey ending in great success [18:15];
  • The birth of a movement: celebrating friendships through public tributes and expressing gratitude to those who have shaped your life’s journey [22:30];
  • Intentionality, thinking in reverse, saying “no”, and other guiding principles for Walter [30:00];
  • Walter’s global journey of gratitude on his 70th birthday, visiting friends, and creating memorable experiences [39:15];
  • The profound impact of acknowledging and expressing gratitude for the people who contribute to our lives [46:15];
  • The key elements for creating meaningful connections and cultivating deep, authentic friendships [52:15];
  • The “Say It Now” movement: the inspiration behind the remarkably impactful initiative [58:30];
  • What “finishing strong” means to Walter [1:07:30];
  • Finding peace at the end of life through expressing gratitude and finding purpose in serving others [1:16:00];
  • Resources to learn about “Say It Now” [1:26:15]; and
  • More.


How Peter and Walter met through Ric Elias [2:45]

  • Peter met Walter at the home party of a very close mutual friend, Ric Elias (whose also been a guest on this podcast)
    • Ric held a very special 2-day event where he brought together a handful of his closest friends for no other reason than to let them meet each other 
  • Exactly as Ric planned, Peter is still in touch with a number of people he met there
  • Walter agrees, “If you can give the gift of a special relationship to people you care about, there is no more beautiful gift.
  • Everybody knew each other because we all knew Ric
  • It was a very intimate setting where they shared many meals over 30 hours, and Peter sat next to Walter for one of the meals
  • Walter’s son and Ric’s son went to business school together
  • Their conversation pivoted from that connection to what Walter is really passionate about, which is what we will talk about today


The unique perspectives and life lessons provided by Walter’s challenging childhood [5:30]

Walter divides his life into 3 stages of 28-29 years

  • Walter is in a very reflective mood at this age and has been thinking about his life
  • He’ll be 85 next month
  • 1 – The first 28-29 years were spent finding himself, just big picture
  • 2 – The next 29 years were making himself
  • 3 – The last 29 years he has spent becoming himself
  • Peter remarks, “We’re talking a lot about the insights that have come in the 3rd phase, but I suspect the seeds of those were sown in the 1st phase.” 

What was your childhood like and where was it? 

  • Walter was born in 1938 at the tail end of the depression, before the war 
  • He came of age when the baby boomers were being born

When I think about it, I think what doesn’t break you makes you.”‒ Walter Green

  • His childhood was challenging
  • His father was a dreamer
  • When he was 1 year old and his brother was 2, his father found a place in the Adirondacks that he thought would make a great dude ranch 
  • He had been relatively successful, and he had saved $40,000 back then, which was a lot of money
  • It was a chicken farm that didn’t work out as a chicken farm and was converted it to a dude ranch 
  • The third year after it opened, there was a big flood that wiped out the bridge and the family essentially went bankrupt
  • His father at the time was in his 40s, and so they had to move back to Bronx in New York in a two bedroom with his grandparents who didn’t speak English

In that 1st stage, Walter lived in 16 different cities, so he won’t go into all the details except to say that it really did set the stage for his life 

  • It wasn’t just the movement from the Adirondacks to the Bronx, to Elizabeth, New Jersey; to Albany, Schenectady, New York; New York; Coral Gables, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida

It wasn’t the cities… 

  • It was that his mother got cancer when he was 9 
    • She recovered
    • Back then they were doing major mastectomies for breast cancer
  • They went on their first vacation as a family, the 4 of them (their father was going to join them a couple of days later) 
    • To Florida when they were living in Albany, New York
  • During this vacation, his mother got a call that their father had a heart attack
    • He was 47 at the time
  • So she had to fly home
    • Which was never easy from Florida to New York as it is today
  • Walter explains, “And so began a very different way of life… that was a game changer.
  • Walter was 11 years old and was reminded that we needed to make sure our dad was okay

2 things Walter remembers specifically 

  • 1 – All this movement preempted any chance to have a relationship
    • He didn’t have any friends
    • It made no sense to have a friend
    • He was going to be moving in a year or 2

Walter has always found in life that people who are really motivated are people who haven’t had it 

  • When you have had it, it’s a little bit more difficult to be motivated
  • So this absence of a relationship
  • Not ever having a friend really, he had a few in high school, but prior to that, none
  • 2 – The combination of no relationships and a fear [of losing his mother]
    • Back then with breast cancer, 5 years was a long time
    • He got very lucky that she lived a long life
      • She had cancer again, but survived that as well

He went off to school at University of Michigan 

  • 2 months later he got that phone call that his father had died from a fatal heart attack
    • He was 53, and his brother died at 53
  • His dad was a little older as a father, and so he and Walter didn’t have much in common
  • Most of Walter’s concern was about his welfare and trying to provide for the family

The gift that I got was this incredible branding that life is short, it’s unpredictable, you never know. And from then on, I’ve been walking up escalators.”‒ Walter Green  

  • That’s the way Walter lives: he’s very intentional, and he doesn’t take anything for granted
    • That was the major gift from his father
  • That was a tough period
  • It was a struggle to graduate from the University of Michigan
    • Because academically that was really tough for him, but he managed to get through

{end of show notes preview}

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Walter Green

Walter Green was Chairman of the Board and CEO of Harrison Conference Services for 25 years. During this time, it grew into the leading conference center management company in the United States. He is a frequent lecturer at the Wharton Graduate School of Business, and Hofstra and Long Island universities. Walter has also been featured as an expert on the topic of effective meetings in numerous national publications. He was associated for years with the Young Presidents’ Organization and the World Presidents’ Organization, and he’s presently a member of the Chief Executives Organization. Since selling his company, he has mentored young adults and is actively involved in several non-profit organizations. 

Walter started the Say It Now movement after two pivotal experiences left an indelible mark on his life. The first was a year-long journey to visit 44 people who significantly impacted his life. From this experience, he wrote the book This is the Moment where he explains the importance of expressing our feelings for others. The second experience occurred when a friend asked him to organize a celebration of life after his passing, and Walter declined. Instead, he convinced him to have a living tribute for his next birthday, where he would gather those nearest and dearest to him and celebrate how much he’d meant in their lives. The event was so enriching for everyone that it affirmed Walter’s commitment to making living tributes a normal part of our daily lives. Expressing gratitude solidifies relationships and eliminates the prospect of having regrets for things you might have said. It releases warmth. It can even change lives. [justsayitnow.org]

Website: justsayitnow.org

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
  1. This podcast was by far, my most favorite. This epitomized a healthy, well lived life. Thank you Dr. Attia and Mr Green. Blessings to you both.

  2. Thank you for 288 Walter Green.
    Opened my eyes and my heart.
    I have much to do.
    Anastasia Sparling
    Fairmount, Grey highlands. Ontario.

  3. Great pod cast with Walter Green. Very inspirational and helped me with the very aspect of I am 80 now and wonder when is going to be my last day. Wonderful suggestions to be “complete” in what you feel you need to do and more importantly, to then find peace knowing you have done it! Acknowledging those people who have had an impact on your life is so important. Thank you for sharing this inspirational conversation with Walter!

  4. This was an amazing podcast.
    It was great for me to re-affirm the importance of “completing” your life and to let the important people in your life know their contribution/impact for your life.
    In the context of the many suggestions from Peter to extend the good/healthy life, this discussion adds to the purpose (… a great one) of pursuing it.
    The “sense of urgency” is something that all of us in the third part of our lives need to use as a driver to complete our lives.
    Thanks for sharing this content!!!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful conversation with Walter Green. Very inspirational and uplifting. I have just turned 80 and even though I am considered “healthy” by my doctors, I have lived longer than anyone in my family so thoughts of longevity are more prevalent and thoughts of sincerely letting my friends and loved ones know how much they mean to me are also becoming more prevalent. Being curious by nature, I am always eager to learn something new. Your podcast was so helpful and has motivated me to begin the process of letting certain individuals know just how much it has meant to have them in my life. Thank you again.

  6. What an outstanding podcast. Walter and Peter, thank you both for sharing this information. I’m certain it will be a life-altering experience for me to more deeply talk to those who are or have been important in my life.

  7. This has been the most impactful podcast I’ve ever listened to! Thank you. My husband also listened and agreed. We have both made our lists and intend to reach out to those on the list over the next few months. This is a great movement and I hope it keeps going!! It’s a game (life) changer. God bless you both.

  8. Thank you so much for this podcast. I cried many times listening to Walter’s journey. It all resonated with me, more than I can describe in words. After turning 60 last year I had the same point of inflection on relationships. I firmly believe many of my health issues were made considerably worse by the absence of meaningful relationships. Too often, particularly men are dismissive of developing and maintaining relationships. It is good to know that not all hope is lost and there is still time. God Bless you for this podcast.

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