The world would be a better place, asserts journalist Jim Ownby, if there were a teddy in every lap.
"There's a lot of hate, tension and fear in today's world," says the 63-year-old bear booster, "that could be countered by the therapeutic effect of the teddy bear. There's something metaphysical about teddy bears that's hard to explain. But when you hold one in your arms you can't help but smile.
"One of the best ways I can think of to get people together is through bear power."
As chairman of Good Bears of the World -- a 7,000 member service organization that bears teddies to kids in hospitals, seniors in nursing homes and "anyone at all who needs love" -- Ownby has devoted nearly a decade to "the rapidly growing teddy bear movement." Their "bear to be great" motto: "To give a bear is better than receiving one."
Great Bears in "dens" across the country (the closest is in Richmond) have raised money to distribute more than 70,000 teddies in the nine years since Ownby founded GBW. Creator of the syndicated "human interest" radio show, "Ownby's World," Ownby got the idea for Good Bears after reading about an Ohio man named Russell McClean who had spent much of his lonely childhood in a sickbed. As an adult, McClean launched a program to give teddy bears to hospitalized children.
"Our goal," Ownby says, "is to see that teddy bears become a universal symbol of love and friendship." The group is lobbying to have Oct. 27 -- Teddy Roosevelt's birthday -- proclaimed Good Bears Day. So far, he says, 18 governors have complied. They have "bearmarked" 1985 as "the international year of the teddy bear" and have sent announcements to members of the United Nations asking for their support and soliciting advice on how to send in the bears in each country.
"The teddy bear is a common denominator for an expression of love by giving," contends Ownby, who says bearing love might even avert nuclear war. "Seven out of 10 Americans have had or will have a teddy bear. And they're probably better people for it."
Why bears and not, for instance, stuffed monkeys?
"That's easy to answer," he chortles. "Who wants to sleep with a monkey?"