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Leading Lecture Series on Sanibel

By Staff | Dec 30, 2011

Dick Wright launched the Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series on Sanibel 10 years ago. (Photo by Bill Schiller)

Some may find certain irony that in youth, no one can stomach a lecture for too long, but with time and maturity, seems one just can’t get enough of it. Maybe it all depends on who is doing the lecturing. On Sanibel, over the coming weeks and months, a variety of venues will launch forums and lecture series that are each respectively designed to be informational, inspirational and even life-enriching. The following offers some insight on leading lectures that will especially appeal to area listeners.

The Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series

The Forum at Big Arts will recognize a tenth anniversary when it commences on the evening of January 8th, 2012. There is no other local event or initiative that has so consistently delivered to Sanibel internationally acclaimed icons of news media, government, social science and public policy. It is recognized among the leading lecture series of the nation and branded as a venue for hearing “thought leaders of our time discuss the key issues of our time.”

So much of this program’s success can be credited to the work of a single man who had an idea that a series like this would be popular on Sanibel. However, ten years ago, Dick Wright encountered some resistance. “Some people told me, we would never be able to pull it off. They didn’t think we would be able to get anyone of real substance to come to Sanibel,” says Wright.

He knew there was an audience. As one of the early discussion leaders for a current events forum that still continues at Big Arts, Wright had witnessed the growth in local interest and participation within the program, which prompted him to propose development of a lecture series that would led by speakers-of-note.

Commissioner Deborah Gist opens the forum series at Big Arts this year

Again, there were doubters who disputed his ability to pull it together.

Now by all appearances, Dick Wright (at 79 years in age) comes across as an exceedingly mild mannered, soft-spoken, yet articulate, gentleman whose subtle style and disarming smile could easily obfuscate other realties of his personality and behavior, namely, his tenacity and persistence. He is simply someone who doesn’t too easily take “no” for an answer.

This lecture series may have never gotten off the ground had it not been for Wright’s refusal to give-up.

He explains that when one is dealing with busy and important people, whether in the form of national broadcasters or government movers and shakers, there is not always immediate acceptance to travel and speak to a small audience on an island in Lee County, Florida. Gaining their ultimate consent, may take more than three or four phone calls, in fact, maybe more than 30 or 40 phone calls (and a dozen or so letters). It also helps, he says, to get to know the secretaries of those he is trying to reach, and he sends them flowers. He also isn’t above recruiting others to also make phone calls.

Wright formerly served as a Vice President with Johnson & Johnson, initially responsible for marketing products in their hospital division before moving to their consumer division, pushing Vick’s Vapor Rub, cough syrups and that familiar brand of Band-Aid popularized in an equally familiar tune, “I’m stuck on band-aids because band-aids stick on me.”

And that’s what Wright does; he sticks and sticks until his target ultimately agrees; and this has led to some very impressive appearances on Sanibel.

Of course, when speakers arrive, Wright and forum volunteers exhibit all manner of hospitality to their guests on Sanibel; and they, in turn, ultimately become friends of Wright’s as well as the community. Some have even returned to enjoy the beach.

However deserved it may be, Wright fends off full credit for the success of the series, indicating that today there are some 50 volunteers who aid in the process. Early on, the program also had critical support from a former Professor of both Harvard and Yale named John Meyer. Certain speakers had attended Meyer’s classes prior to launching their careers. Wright would mention Meyer’s involvement when requesting these speakers come to Sanibel. He says their response would typically be, “If John Meyer wants me to come, that’s not a request; that’s a command,” and they complied.

Today, the popularity of the forum is evident in sold-out sessions well prior to the event, and a four-year long waiting list for anyone wishing to join the group. The good news is that there are ALWAYS a few empty seats from ticket holders who may not turn-up. Wright says over the last few years, anyone who arrived early (that’s well prior to the 7:30 p.m. launch) was able to purchase a ticket and enjoy the lecture. There are no guarantees, but come early enough, one might be able to join the audience.

Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series for January

JANUARY 8 (7:30 p.m.)

Commissioner Deborah Gist: As Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Gist is responsible for providing information, resources and technical assistance on educational matters to schools and residents of Rhode Island. Gist served as the first state superintendent of education in Washington, D.C., a role tasked with the implementation of critical accountability systems mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Gist holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and a Master of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of South Florida. Honored twice as “Teacher of the Year” at schools in Fort Worth, Texas, and Tampa, Florida, Gist enjoyed ten years of direct service to our nation’s schools before also becoming a senior policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Education. Her esteemed career and experience in education make Gist an expert on both current policies and future developments in U.S. education.

JANUARY 22 (7:30 p.m.)

Dr. Michael Levi: An expert on energy, climate change, arms control and nuclear terrorism, Dr. Levi is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Director of the CFR program on energy security and climate change. Dr. Levi is a former Director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Strategic Security Project and author of On Nuclear Terrorism (University Press). His 2005 monograph, Untapped Potential: U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation with the Islamic World, is the first comprehensive study of science and technology in the Muslim world. Dr. Levi has testified before Congress and presented expert scientific evidence in essays published in Foreign Affairs, Nature, Scientific American and The Wall Street Journal. He holds a Bachelors of Science in mathematical physics from Queen’s University, a Master of Arts in physics from Princeton University and a PhD in war studies from the University of London.

Faces of Courage Come to Shell Point

The Shell Point Retirement Community, located just before the bridge to Sanibel, is also home to a popular annual Speaker Series which commences on January 16, 2012. This year’s series follows the theme; “In The Face of Courage” and is complemented by people who have endured and overcome adversities that could have broken someone less extraordinary. The series, which runs through March, will include a former New York Fire Battalion Commander who recounts his experiences at the World Trade Center Complex from September 11, 2001 as well as a passenger who survived the harrowing landing on Hudson River after a bird struck the famed Flight 1549. The Speaker Series will commence on January 16 at 7:00 p.m. with “A Story of the Resilience of the Human Spirit” with Joel Sonnenberg.

When Joel Sonnenberg was only two-years-old, a tractor trailer smashed into his family’s car leaving him burned beyond all recognition. Through his faith and persistence, he learned to cope and accept his circumstances, but excelled far beyond anyone’s expectations. His story is said to prove that the extraordinary is within everyone’s grasp when they reach for faith and courage.

The presentations are held in The Village Church auditorium on The Island at Shell Point. Tickets can be purchased as a subscription to the entire Speaker Series for $60, or individual speaker presentation tickets can be purchased at $25 each. Tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased at www.shellpoint.org/concerts. For more details, phone (239) 454-2067.

San-Cap Audubon Lecture Series

Many on Sanibel also annually wing their way to a popular lecture series sponsored by the local chapter of the Audubon Society. The first of eight sessions for 2012 begin on January 5th with world renowned crane expert, Dr. George Archibald.

Born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, George Archibald received his BS degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS in 1968. He then moved on to graduate work in the U.S. earning his doctorate at Cornell University. In 1973 he co-founded the International Crane Foundation with Ron Sauey (a colleague from Cornell). Working from a horse barn owned by Sauey’s parents, the foundation emerged during a perilous time for cranes as so many of the remaining 15 species were on the verge of extinction.

Archibald is especially regarded for his research with Whooping Cranes, which came when there were only a little over a dozen known to exist on the planet. Recognizing how critical it was to take drastic measures, he spent three years with a human imprinted, genetically valuable Whooping Crane named Tex. By dressing like and acting in the manner of a male crane (which meant stylistically walking, calling and dancing), Archibald successfully helped shift the female crane into reproductive condition, and went on to utilize artificial insemination techniques such that Tex eventually laid a fertile egg. Her offspring, named “Gee Whiz” went on to produce seven offspring of his own. The story of Archibald and Tex brought fame to the captive breeding program of the foundation which is based in Wisconsin today.

The International Crane Foundation continues to raise Whooping Cranes for reintroduction into the wild using an isolation rearing technique where human handlers wear crane costumes to avoid human imprinting. This technique was pioneered by Archibald’s wife, Kyoko.Today George Archibald is not only known globally as “the man who danced with cranes,” he is also regarded as the world’s leading scientific authority on cranes. In 1987, The U.N. distinguished him on the Global 500 Roll of Honor for Environmental Achievement.

The presentation will be the first among eight other presentations involving other dynamic speakers taking place on consecutive Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. at the Sanibel Community House (2173 Periwinkle Way). All are welcomed and encouraged to attend. A $5.00 per person donation to Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society is appreciated. For additional information, phone Lecture Series Chairperson Elaine Jacobson at (239)395-1878, or go online to www.sancapaudubon.org.