Scenes from an Interview – A.G. Lafley

Living a Fresh and Clean Life
By Gus Mollasis

He’s a small-town boy who has done a lot of good in his life. And while his mother never washed his mouth out with soap, A. G. Lafley would develop quite a taste for soap over the years – helping to sell and market it, that is, as he climbed to the top of Proctor and Gamble (P & G) to become CEO not once, but twice. Under his guidance, the iconic company flourished, as his team developed brands like Febreze® and Swiffer®, which helped make the air a little fresher and life a little easier for millions of people in homes throughout the world. Instilled with a strong work ethic, this Harvard Business graduate learned the importance of listening, and has lived by the mantra to always put the customer first, both of which he’s never forgotten. The result is a life well-lived – a life in which he’s made a positive difference in many lives. Regarding his failures as a gift, he’s parlayed them into learning valuable lessons that have made him better. “Playing to win” is a choice that he says we all have and something he’s mastered in his life. Now retired in Sarasota, he’s naturally involved in trying to make his community a better place by giving something back to his new home. As I sat down with A.G. Lafley, I couldn’t wait to get a look at some winning scenes from an interview of his life. clean

Where were you born?

I was born in Keene, New Hampshire that was then a very small town, but I grew up in small, semi-rural town called Burnt Hills, New York.

What is your greatest childhood memory?

As soon as the newspapers were delivered, we had breakfast and the four of us kids were out the back door. If you wanted lunch, you came home. If you didn’t want lunch, my mother needed to know where you were having lunch, and you had to be home by dinner because my dad would be home by six and we would have dinner as a family. It was a time that cars, garages and houses were unlocked. It seems like a long time ago, but I think there are few places still like that, but not enough. I only had one decision I had to make. Was I going to walk or run to where I was going, or was I going to jump on my bike? Simple things. Back then if you wanted to play baseball, you showed up at the playground and you picked sides in pick-up games in which the oldest kids ran the show. I remember showing up when I was seven years old and I didn’t care if I was put in right field. I just wanted to play. I knew if I played well, then they would move me to second base or left field. As I kid I was a bit of trailblazer and all the rules were established for me. (Laughs) I had a fabulous childhood.  clean

What was your first job?

Delivering newspapers. After that I was a stock boy at the local grocery store. My father worked for GE. After 10 years of growing up in this world that doesn’t exist anymore, we moved to Chicago. I always wanted to be independent so at 16, I loaded freight cars during the 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. I wasn’t the kind of kid that was going to sit around. After that, we moved every three or four years because of my dad’s job with GE.

So your father worked for Jack Welch?

My father worked for Mr. Welch and I actually worked with Mr. Welch and it was a riot. This is diversion, but I’ll come back. The day after I was elected and appointed chief executive of P&G, I get a phone call late in the evening at the office. I’m working late. I’m drinking through a fire hose, running like crazy trying to figure out the job, and my associate turns to me and says, “There’s some guy on the phone and he says he is Jack Welch.” I said to her, ‘Does he have a gravelly voice kind of like this?’  She said, “Yeah.” I told her to put him through. I pick up the phone and he doesn’t say hi, hello or how are you? He says, “Are you Al Lafley’s kid?”  I said, ‘I am.’ He says, “Your father was the only honest son of a bitch in corporate when I was running the plastics business.” What do you say? So I said, ‘Thank you.’ (Laughs) Then he said, “Get your ass into New York as soon as you can. I got to talk to you.” That’s how I met Jack Welch. And then we worked together when I retired the first time from P&G in 2010 and when I joined Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, which is a private equity firm. Jack and I were kind of senior advisors. He is a great man.  clean

Did your mother ever have to wash your mouth with soap?

My mom never had to wash my mouth out with soap, but she chased me around the house with a hairbrush or with whatever she was cooking with. I was a pretty good kid, but even good kids need to be disciplined. I was extremely active. Today they would probably want to medicate me. Back then the teachers and parents knew I was active and they figured out a way to deal with my energy. My father would run me non-stop and after I would eat dinner I would collapse. He figured it out.

Were you always interested in business?

I wasn’t. When we went to Chicago, my parents put me in this Dominican All Boys School to help me focus on academics. Then I went to a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, Hamilton College, because I thought I could play basketball. Not a good reason to pick, but it was a good school academically. My freshman year I majored in math; my sophomore year I majored in English Literature; my third year I went to France and majored in French and French History; my senior year I realized I had to graduate and graduated in history. I considered law school, but instead I went into the PhD program at the University of Virginia. I won this thing called the Presidential Fellowship. My whole education was paid for and I was able to study Medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Virginia, which was my interest. In November or the first semester, the first draft of the Vietnam War was held and I won the lottery. I got a 69, which meant that I had to report for active duty in March. I enlisted in the Navy in which I spent five years and three months. I started in Snowden’s Naval Security Group (Lt. Col. Benjamin Snowden). We are in the middle of the Vietnam War and I spent 47 weeks learning Modern Hebrew. I went through Supply Corps School and they sent me to Japan, where I spent three years running sort of all of the PX and club services for a big air base there. The aircraft that were on the carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin came in and out of our air base. clean

What was your great lesson from your Vietnam experience?

My great lesson is two-fold. They give both men and women a lot of responsibility at an early age and I like that. And the other thing is that at least with the Navy, it’s a relatively small unit. It’s a ship’s crew, or an air base support team, or an air group. So you have friends for life. I don’t see them all the time. You shared the same experiences. I never saw combat, just support, but we served people who went into combat.

What was your big break?

A couple of things. I was very lucky to end up with one serendipitous decision at a time, involved with something that was a good fit with my values and aspirations, and something I enjoyed and learned and grew from. Whether it was going to that all boys’ school – or whatever – I had the attitude that okay, I’ll give it a shot. It was totally different to what I was used to, going from t-shirts to a more formal jacket and tie environment. The guy that got the best grade in the class is sitting right there. Everybody else is sitting in alphabetical order. They post all your test and SAT scores and how many push-ups you can do. It’s intended to be totally transparent and based on merit. Would I have rather had 300 when the Vietnam lottery took place? Yes. Not because I didn’t want to serve my country, but because I was interested in getting my Ph.D. The Navy changed that and when that ended it was kind of interesting. I was married by then and my first son was born. I’ll never forget this decision. I was 28 years old. That’s when I applied to business school at Harvard. I had business-like jobs in the Navy and thought to myself I can do that. I also applied to law school. But I thought law school is three years. What do you do if you’re not Perry Mason and you’re a lawyer? Business school seemed a lot more interesting to me and I wanted to get on with life. It’s a series of choices that worked out. I can’t tell you it was any life plan. When I was nine or ten years old and jumped on my Schwinn bike there was no plan.

Finish the following sentences:

My best quality is…

I’m a great listener and I’m objective. clean

I wish I could be more like…

Mahatma Gandhi.

A good business always…

Puts the customer first.

A good product is one that…

Delivers on its function so it does what it says it is going to do. High quality, high service and a fair price. A good value.

The key to success in business is…

Serving the customer better than anyone else can serve the customer so the customer keeps coming back and buying the product and services.

A great leader will always…

Listen.

 

Was there a mentor along the way who showed you the ropes?

There was never any one person. But Jack Welch kind of inserted himself and said, “I want to be your mentor.” He was helpful, but that was in my last job. Early on, one of my coaches in public school was very supportive. I was undersized. Skinny. But I worked hard to make my way on to the first team. I was made captain of the team and I wasn’t even a starter yet. I thought that if they’re going to make me captain, then I’m really going to have to work hard so I made myself good defensive player. And Digger Graves, the head of the history department at Hamilton, inspired me and was one of the big reasons I decided to major in history.   clean

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

I think the things that always got me most excited were to be part of the team that created, designed, and developed a new product and especially one that was really successful. I was on the team, and this sounds so mundane, that worked on liquid Tide® detergent. There were other liquid detergents out there, but they actually didn’t clean that well. The challenge was putting all this chemistry into liquid. I spent a lot of time on some of the hair care products that we did. With Pantene, we actually put conditioner and treatment in a shampoo and had them stay together to work on your hair. I was part of the Febreze® and Swiffer® teams. That excited me the most. The other thing that I can’t help but feel good about is that I was the “Accidental CEO.” The only reason I was elected was because we were failing in 2000. We had lost half of our market value and our stock price dropped in half. For the next seven years or so, we more than doubled the sales of the company and tripled profits. All of our established brands were growing again and then we made some acquisitions that turned out to be pretty good, one of which was Gillette®. It was a great seven or eight years and a huge team effort that was a lot of fun. We were running so fast.

Proctor and Gamble. What does that brand mean to you?

I do think that we are iconic in the sense that our brands and products are part of everyday Americana lives and now lives around the world. Ninety-nine percent of US homes have one or more P&G products. A lot of people don’t know it is P&G. They know Crest® or Pampers®. We weren’t saving lives and we weren’t curing cancer, but we were creating and manufacturing these everyday household products that make your life a little bit better. So I got a kick out of that. And I got a kick out of working with 10,000 scientists and chemists. People don’t think of that, but somebody has to create all that.

What are some of the greatest challenge you encountered in your stints at P&G?

The greatest challenge to P&G, GE or General Motors is their sheer size – the scale and global scope of these companies. When I joined P&G, it was probably $5 billion in sales in the mid 70’s with 80 or 90% of products sold in the United States.  Today, it’s $65 or $70 billion in sales and they’re probably selling products in over 100 countries. P&G’s China business is bigger than the entire business when I joined the company.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the “consumer is boss?”

For most companies it’s the customer. If you’re business to business, it’s the customer. For a lot of retail companies where we shop, it’s the customer. We always distinguish between the consumer who buys and uses our product and our customer – the retailer or distributor who sells it to you – because we don’t sell anything directly. What comes to my mind, and I’m going to paraphrase, is Peter Drucker, an important mentor to me. I cold-called him when he was 87 years old. I read half of his books when I was in Asia and I went out to see him three to four times a year. His simple view of the world was no consumer, no customer. The purpose of a business is to create a customer and serve that customer better than anyone else can. Hopefully keeping them coming back and buying your product for life. The companies that are successful think about their customers. Apple had a very successful run because they made products that we love and wanted.

Play the role of the ad man for a moment and tell me a tagline for the following well-known brands that you helped revitalize.

Crest:

The two best tag lines for me are For healthy, beautiful smiles for life, and Look ma, no cavities. That was fabulous for kids and put the brand on the map.

Tide:

Tide’s in, dirt’s out and If it’s got to be clean, it’s got to be Tide.

Pampers:

Pampers keeps babies dryer and allows them to sleep overnight. That’s good for their health and development. 

Swiffer:

The ultimate in quick, convenient cleaning of any surface in your home.

Febreze:

Amazing. It’s a breath of fresh air. It actually makes the bad odor go away and replaces it with a breath of fresh air. 

 

What is your definition of success in life?

Right now for me, a guy that’s about to turn 70, it’s health, happiness, friends and being able to do what you like to do with people you like a lot.

As you have written, do you really regard failures as a gift?

I’ve written several articles for the Harvard Business Review and what I’ve often heard feedback about is the one: “I Think of My Failures as a Gift.” I’ve always felt that I’ve learned ten times as much from a mistake I made, from a setback I had, from a failure than I ever did from a success. People say study the successes of great people. Okay.  Sure there are lessons, principles and concepts to be learned. But I just found that these gut-wrenching, emotional and personal stakes that you have in something that turns into a failure or mistake adds a whole different dimension. And I viewed it as a gift. There are a lot of things that you fail a lot of times at before you get it right. I took up tennis at 63 and I’m not a very good tennis player but I’m bound and determined that I’m going to play two to three times a week.

Tell me about another concept you’ve written about – “Playing to Win.”

It’s interesting because “winning” or “playing to win” takes on prerogative sense for some people and we purposely chose that collection of words for that book because we feel what’s the choice? Playing to play? Playing to lose? Playing to tie? Or playing to win? And you know my view is playing to win. So in business you have to think what is winning?  I think winning is when the customer wins. The business product and service provider wins. The shareowner and shareholder wins. The employees win. So playing to win for us meant it’s a win, win, win, win situation. It’s not win-lose. It’s not management wins and the shareholders lose. It’s not pitted against each other. We believe that if you just make five choices they make a difference. And the first choice is what is winning? What is the goal? If you don’t know what the goal is, any direction will do.

How did you discover Sarasota?

My grandmother used to drive her ‘52 Chevy down from New Hampshire in the late 50’s with her cousin to watch the Boston Red Sox play during spring training at Payne Park. She was a huge Ted Williams fan. That’s when I found out and first became aware of Sarasota from looking at all these pictures. As a youth, I was both a Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds fan from living in all these places. The first time I moved here was in 2004.

Tell me about your community involvement and how you plan to help shape Sarasota’s future?

One of the things that I truly believe in is that when you choose to live in a community, you should choose to give back to the community that you live and or work in, which we did a lot in Cincinnati. My wife Diana and I are still thinking through on how we are going to get involved and give back to Sarasota. We’re in the process of building our own foundation. I definitely believe in what Warren Buffet, who was our biggest shareholder for a long time, believed, and what Bill Gates also believes and that is if you’re fortunate in life, you give back during your life and at the end of your life. We’ve been dabbling at what we were going to get involved in from various arts organizations to an array of social causes. And that’s how I got involved with the Sarasota 20/20 Bayfront project. They called me and asked me to do the planning board. And I said that I would give it a try. I didn’t know a lot about it. It was nine volunteers, all citizens, not representing any interest or stakeholders. About a two-year assignment working with private and professional planners, and getting the city a master plan for civic space in which the city owns all the land. I had done a major private-public partnership in Cincinnati and had good experience there. It’s now in its 14th year of operation. So I’ve seen it happen and work well. I’m not interested in development. I don’t invest in development or in real estate. I’m not an architect. I’m looking for the greater good of the community and finding that right thing that needs to be there on that land.  I read lot of comments from people on the Bayfront 20/20 master plan and it sounds like people want some combination of bay and waterfront activity, park and recreation activity and arts and culture. Mixed use. And they want it to be open to everybody, which makes it a true civic space. What we’ve done in Cincinnati is that it’s open and nothing is ticketed. When there is an event, you pay for parking and your food and drink. And that’s how you get a great mix for the community.

Hopefully many years from now, what do you hope people think about when they remember you?

This is going to sound simple and clichéd, but I would hope people would say that he made a difference with his wife Diana and with his family; that he made a difference with vocations and avocations; and, that life was just a little bit better for those he touched as result of him being there. If I can accomplish that, then there will be a smile on my face when the end of the world comes.

 

Family & Business

SCENE Special Profile Section

Family businesses play a vital role in the success of our economy. Whether single or multi-generational, they are an essential element of a strong foundation and build wealth that can transform a city. SCENE proudly features some local family enterprises, which contribute to truer and richer sustainability, and are committed to excellent customer service, quality and care.

Real TALK

Sheryl Vieira shares thoughts on the community, good deeds and important things, big AND small.

How often do you ponder which of your five senses is your favorite? Hard to truly determine and say which is your most favorite. Listening to and hearing music is such a part of my life, yet so is tasting great food.

For Kevin Stalker, perhaps it’s his hearing. He might not have been adopted by one of his instructors, who became an incredible mother and mentor to him, had he not listened to and heard all that was said while growing up in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County.

Maybe for our “Maytag Man,” Lee Thacker, touch is his most endearing sense. After all, he always touches people’s lives and has had an astounding impact on many as a board member, co-worker, loyal friend, husband, father and grandfather.

A Round of Applause at The Concession

What do you get when two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, professional athletes and sports fans across the nation join forces at The Concession Golf Club? A successful 7th Annual Archie Griffin Celebrity Golf Classic that raised nearly $130,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County to provide high-quality educational and recreational services to more than 5,000 local youth, empowering them to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. To date, The Concession Charities has raised nearly $650,000 through this event!

Kicking things off, the Pairings Party featured a cocktail hour before dinner with a silent and live auction, as well as celebrity pairings for the next day’s golf tournament. Bruce Cassidy, Sr., owner of The Concession Golf Club, and Archie Griffin welcomed guests. Local celebrity and comedian Les McCurdy kept guests laughing throughout the live auction.

Also in attendance were professional athletes Mike Alstott, Leroy Hoard, Isaac Curtis, Will Allen, Cedric Saunders, Robert Smith, Keith Byars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston. But the toughest athlete of life in attendance was Duquesne University Junior Kevin Stalker. He grew up in the local Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County and was later adopted by one of his instructors. His roots with the club have made him quite a successful young man. He now speaks on behalf of Boys & Girls Clubs and mentors children once like him. His powerful, humble determination and passion are profound. He possesses a warrior spirit and is clearly driven by a much bigger purpose.

The winning team of the golf tournament included Keith Byars, Hampton Ballard, Bruce Cassidy, Sr., Bryan Snyder and Chuck Whirlow. Interested in their 2018 event? Save the date – March 5-6, 2018. They’re hoping Jameis Winston will join them again and are hoping for a return of Tim Tebow and others. Kudos to all! We’re still clapping!

The Maytag Man

…and in keeping with the great work of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), did you know that Sarasota has their very own Maytag Man?

Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to meet Lee Thacker, Jr., whom I would describe as the perfect man with legendary decades of long community service, and a never-ending commitment to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Maytag® even chose him as one of only 25 nominees in the country to be a “Maytag Dependable Leader”, honoring him “in recognition of his demonstrated commitment to dependability and dedication to keeping youth on the path to achieve great futures.” Lee is a Duke alumnus, proud father of two, grandfather of five and husband to Suzanne Thacker. Congratulations are also in order as Lee just celebrated his 20th work anniversary at Caldwell Trust.

Milestones are reached, but aren’t always celebrated. I couldn’t let this one pass by! 

Thee Leee Thackahh, as I refer to him with a smile on my face and untethered enthusiasm, has been a BGCA board volunteer in Columbia, SC, Orlando and Atlanta. Since his arrival in Venice, he has chaired the Florida Area Council, was honored with the BGCA Medallion Award and Council Pacesetter of the Year awards, served as board president, chaired key committees, was named “Dream Maker” in 2010 and subsequently received the Maytag® Award. He is currently a director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County where he, along with others, was instrumental in bringing the Robert and Joan Lee Boys & Girls Club to Venice. He has also served on the board of Venice Theatre, where he was treasurer and past president. His friendship and mentorship over the years has touched many.


Lee is the absolute epitome of a loyal friend, an insightful leader, a strong ally and an extremely intelligent, oh-so-strategic executive.


Quiet and unassuming, we believe he would have been quite the opposite if his alma mater (Duke) made it to the NCAA Final Four which he and his lovely bride personally experienced in Phoenix, Arizona! Nothin’ but net, baby, and congratulations Thee Leee Thackahhh!

Savory, Succulent and Sustainable Swallowtail Farm-to-Table Dinner

Feeling the need for some fresh air and a way to reconnect? Just three hours north you can experience a tranquil, delicious, unique four-course farm-to-table dinner at Swallowtail Farm in Alachua. All that is required is to be an adventurous eater. Other than that, pack your things, jump in your car and go!

Gainesville-area celebrity chefs, highlighting their local food culture, artfully prepare food from Swallowtail Farm and surrounding local farms. You’ll also enjoy a tour of the farm, learn about the owners and their partners, and the courses that are carefully prepared and enjoyed. Their mission is make the farm better through the support of their community. They have quite a few people who support them faithfully through the grit of their labor. According to the Swallowtail Farm website, “The dinners enable you to uplift the farm with a wine glass in place of a spade.”

My host was kind enough to purchase this special treat as a holiday gift for me. He was thoughtful enough to call ahead and inquired about where to stay. Lo and behold, the owners of the farm have a private cottage they rent out, and it happened to be available.

As we walked from the guest cottage through the woods, we crossed a running stream with a small, arched wood bridge. I felt like I was in the “The Bridges of Madison County.” We dodged a few cow patties on the way to the event registration and already had smiles on our faces. Roosters digging, dogs and pigs playing, buzzing bees and mooing cows were there to greet us.

We immediately indulged ourselves in the various beverages being offered. Large glass pitchers filled with rose water and rose petals, strawberry limequat-ade, and black tea were displayed on the makeshift bar covered in a shabby-chic tablecloth. Swamp Head Brewery provided a Wild Night brew of honey and cream ale, Big Nose India Pale Ale, and Midnight Oil of Oatmeal Coffee Stout. Wines poured that evening were from Montinore Estate, which only produces certified organic/biodynamic wines. Selections included a Borealis white table wine, a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir.

As we settled in and took in the beautiful views and the rolling hills, we noticed the local, organically-grown blooms placed in mason jars set on the family-style wooden harvest tables.

Noah Shitama, co-founder of the farm, gave us a tour of the property and explained the various programs and pursuits of providing their community with clean, nutritious, healthy food. He explained how they have crafted the farm as a model of sustainability and stewardship, with a focus on conservation of resources and nature-produced fertility. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or chemicals ever touch their fields or their food. Their supporters are happy, as are their healthy animals. They believe the animal element is essential to a healthy farm organism and they vow to treat their creatures with dignity, love and respect.

Yup, I’m in the right place.

The farm-to-table dinners also feature ingredients cultivated on nearby farms. Chef Justin Langer prepared a menu of veggie crudité with a yogurt and herb tahini for dipping along with burnt scallion and garlic chive pesto. Our second course was a green soup of broccolini, Tuscan kale, green garlic, and coconut milk. Our main course was Asian-style roast pork, purple sweet potatoes, collards, chard, and bok choy. For our yummy ending, we had compressed drunken strawberries with whipped cream, an oat crumble, and sweet coconut milk. The vegetables and pork were from Swallowtail, the milk and yogurt from the Swallowtail Creamery, the vegan pasta from Vine, the fresh roasted coffee from Flagship Roasters, the olive oil from Saporito Oil, Vinegar and Spice, and the fresh, soft bread was brought in from Big Cypress Bakery. I had brought a red sweater poncho in case it got a bit cool at night as the sun set and the full moon rose, but when they placed bread baskets that resembled miniature picnic baskets with the bread it in on the tables, I had to put my red poncho on and pose like Little Red Riding Hood holding her basket as she stood in the vast forest. All night long we took in background music performed by Long Over Duo.

It’s a one-night-only seasonal dinner prepared with great love and respect. We surely tasted it, heard it, saw it and felt it.

We were long overdue.

“The Greatest Gift of the Garden is the Restoration of the Five Senses” 

– Hanna Rion

A Caliente Noche at Mote!

A Hot Havana Night was enjoyed by over 400 guests at the sold-out 9th annual Party on the Pass fundraiser for Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Thanks to major sponsors PNC Wealth Management and the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, guests grazed on an assortment of ceviche, spring rolls, sushi, shack shrimp and grits, andouille sausage, ground beef sliders, flank steak and a chocolate fountain to dip your strawberries and house-made profiteroles in! Siesta Key Rum even came up with a signature drink for all to sip on which was aptly name Mote-jitos. But most importantly, because of these sponsors and many others, Mote’s animal hospitals can continue to treat and care for the animals that come to Mote in critical condition, with problems ranging from entanglement in fishing gear, ingesting plastic bags and debris, and injuries from boat strikes to fibro papilloma tumors and other life-threatening conditions.

Mote has treated more than 615 sea turtles and 71 dolphins and small whales. They are dedicated in their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release back to the wild these protected species of marine life. In the process, they learn about the animals’ biology, health and disease processes, and life history in the wild. Their science is leading the way to curing many diseases and we’re blessed to have such a facility in our backyard.

Sea’n in the crowd were Michael and Sandy Albano, Mote Board of Trustees Chairman Lowe Morrison and daughter Ashley Morrison, Judy Graham, Gordon and Jennifer Abbott, Tom Waters, Scott Collins, Marge and Vinnie Maisto, Tommy and Norm Vanbirch, Sonya Kristie, Erin Kabinoff, Stacy Alexander and Sofie Wachtmeister.

Once Upon A Time

A sprinkle of pixie dust through cascading twinkle lights greeted the crowd of more than 300 for Children First’s Annual Fairytale Ball at Michael’s on East. Co-chairs for the event were Donna and David Koffman, Jacqueline and Lacy Ray, Patti and David Wertheimer, and Sarah Wertheimer. Affairs in the Air created large trees out of the three main pillars in the ballroom. Lighting from Sights and Sounds set the ambiance with forest silhouettes and colored lighting. You could almost hear the twigs snap as you danced through the enchanted forest full of fairies, butterflies, oversized mushrooms, and other mystical elements. Some guests, like Lisa Kates and Richard LaBrie, celebrated the theme with fairy-inspired outfits. The Bay Kings Band kicked things off with a Peter Pan tribute singing “Lost Boy” as guests were seated. Carol Butera, Children First Vice President of Development, welcomed attendees and Michael Klauber led the mobile “paddle raise” where donations reached record highs for the organization. Philip Tavill, President and CEO, spoke about the benefits of the Children First program for vulnerable children and their parents.

When one of your senses is lacking, they say your other senses are heightened. When you stop and think about it, it’s amazing how our senses come into play in all of our life experiences, including the ones I’ve written about here! We certainly heard how important the programs are at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County. We are thankful to Lee Thacker for touching lives and for being such a special kind and caring, soul. We tasted the food from our good earth. We saw lots of good being done at Mote through the hospital care and attention they give to our stranded, hurt marine life, and we could smell the woods where critters live in the makeshift forest at Children First’s Fairytale Ball.

Listen intently. Give fully. Grow a garden. Help others out. Play in the dirt. And always appreciate your senses and that includes your sense of humor!


 

Scenes from an Interview: Filmmaker Rory Kennedy

by Gus Mollasis

Because she is a Kennedy, it should come as no surprise that she is resilient. It should also not be surprising that Rory Kennedy embodies a curious spirit to explore and get involved in the fabric of our American lives, with a noble goal that while doing so she will leave her mark and the world in better shape than before she got here. In that way, she shares not only the Kennedy name, but also many of the same hopes and dreams of her father, Bobby Kennedy, as well as her Uncle Jack, to make things better for our country and its people. In telling the stories that she chooses to focus on as an award-winning documentary filmmaker, she is not only merely asking us to watch, but also more importantly asking us to get involved. It matters not whether you are watching the Last Days in Vietnam, or the loving profile Ethel on her mother Ethel Kennedy, or exploring the plight of a struggling Appalachian family in American Hollow – one thing comes to light in every frame that she produces. You will become totally engaged with whatever story she is telling. It’s because she’s done the work and is totally engaged in the material. The result is always riveting documentary filmmaking. Her latest film, Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, captures that sense of adventure that she and her family know a lot about, and it opens the 19th Annual Sarasota Film Festival. As I spoke with Rory Kennedy on the phone, picturing that Kennedy smile and grace, and couldn’t wait to discuss the craft of filmmaking that she’s mastered and document some scenes from an interview of her life.

Your film Last Days in Vietnam was well received by the critics and public alike. As you look back at that experience, what does that film mean to you? 

That film was a great experience for me and was a story that surprisingly had largely not been told. I think it’s a story that a lot of people think that they know. That was my experience going into it. And it turns out that only two of us knew much of what actually happened in the last 24 hours of that war. You don’t always come across amazing stories, and stories that have impact, and stories that help tell who we are as a nation and people, and as humans walking through the world. That story and that moment in history was so important to so many people. Because of the course of events and history of our nation, that was such revelatory moment. It was a great opportunity for me to share that with the American people. The ability to travel all across the country and attend screenings with the people and very poignantly with some Vietnamese Americans was hugely rewarding.

Out of all the films, is that film about Vietnam the one you are most proud of and would most have wanted your father to see?

I have never thought about in those terms. I’m proud of all my films in different ways. I think that they all have meaningful impact. I made a short called The Fence nine years ago that I think has a lot of resonance right now. Sometimes films become more relevant as time goes on. When I think of my first feature film, American Hollow, I will always look back at that experience in Appalachia and eastern Kentucky and living with an Appalachian family down there on and off for the course of a year. That was an extraordinary experience for me. And of course Ethel was very personal. When I made a film called Ghosts of Abu Ghraib that shed light on our torture history in this country, that filled in a lot of the pieces for a lot of people to fully understand what happened there.

What is the greatest thing you learned from your mother in making the film Ethel?

I will tell you that I knew a lot of the pieces of that story. I’m not sure that there was anything in there that was completely new information for me but in looking at the old footage of her, it was more about really appreciating everything that she went through and was living through at a time when she had so many children. And how both my mother and father kept that balance, keeping the focus on the children, while doing enormously important work has been a huge revelation, particularly now in my life when I have three children of my own, and a profession as a filmmaker where you have to interweave so many things. I think with my mom there was deep, deep commitment to public service and not in any superficial way, but looking over the course of her life you see what her priorities have been and the decisions that both she and my father made over those years. I have footage of them speaking about it, and it ran deep in their souls, and was such a profound commitment for them.

When you look back at your parents, are you ever amazed at how they balanced it all and accomplished so much?

Well part of how they did it was they brought the kids with them to everything. (Laughs) There were no boundaries in those typical ways. They understood that they had some real opportunities to improve people’s lives. I think they did a lot of internal and spiritual work along the way at a time when our country was changing enormously and the assumptions were changing. I think they were also evolving as people and were not the status quo with anything. As people, they were on a constant learning curve and that’s quite inspiring.

Your latest film, Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, opens the Sarasota Film Festival just as Last Days in Vietnam opened up the festival a few years ago. If my memory serves me right, you had your daughter with you on opening night. 

Yes, I have three children and I think my daughter Bridget was with me on that night. It was a very special night and the film was warmly received in Sarasota.

What do you hope people take away from the screening of Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton?

Obviously it’s a different kind of film then some of the films we just talked about and that was part of the appeal of it. It’s nice for all of us to simply challenge ourselves with a different kind of challenge. In this case, how do we capture an extraordinary athlete on enormous waves and how do you capture a life where it can go beyond the interest of purely the surf world, in which he’s had such an impact. One of the things that was of great interest to me was that Laird is not only known as one of the greatest surfers in the world, but he’s also pushed the sport like nobody else has over the last 50 years and arguably over the last 100 years. So, it is that kind of commitment to innovation and continuing to not only push himself into things that felt scary, dangerous, daunting and unchartered territories, and also pushing the sport in a similar way. Those are the kind of values that I’ve always respected. Courage. Commitment. And dealing with life’s challenges. And in a different sphere, those were similar values to the ones growing up in my family. I think that there is a lot to learn from these kinds of physical challenges. I grew up in a family where on family vacations we would go rafting, skiing and sailing, and just being in nature. What we learned from that, my family, my mother and father and my uncles and aunts, those were important values to them as well. When my Uncle Jack died, you know my father went and climbed Mount Kennedy as a way of processing that. It’s not entirely unfamiliar to me, that is Laird’s attributes and what drives him. That question of what drives him to do these things that nobody has done before was what was appealing to me. I wasn’t interested in following a surfer for a year. I’m not a surfer. (Laughs) Surfing is interesting and beautiful and super cool, but that’s not what attracted me to the story and made me want turn over my life for a year. It was his drive to do things that nobody has done and his drive to do that and what we can all learn from that. That is what was interesting to me.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a filmmaker? 

Maybe my senior year in college, I started thinking about making a film. It was really thought of as a one-off. I never went to film school or took film classes, but I did come out of college and made a film based on the final paper I had done in school. I really loved the process and everything I learned from it, albeit the combination of the creativity to the storytelling to having the ability to move people and have a social impact in the world. People gather so much information from the media, TV and from watching movies that it seemed like a nice place to invest my energy and produce some things that I was interested in and somewhat capable of doing.

Is there a filmmaker out there that you’ve looked at as being one of your mentors?

I was aware in college of and had great admiration for the work of Barbara Kopple, the great female director. I loved the series, Eyes on the Prize, so I had some awareness of film having the ability to make a social impact. Now I have enormous respect for so many filmmakers in our field, every single one of the people who were nominated this year for an Academy Award for documentary features are all so fantastic. I have never seen so many people who have risked their lives. I have huge respect for so many filmmakers, my partner Liz Garbus. I love Michael Moore’s film and Heidi Ewing – an endless number of people that I won’t go through them all. I do feel that it’s an extraordinary community, and it’s great that Sarasota provides an outlet for it to showcase their extraordinary films and stories that they make.

Your husband, Mark Bailey, is also a filmmaker. What is the greatest thing you learned from him in film and in life?

I learn so many things from my husband. He’s my partner in work and my partner in life. He is the person I most admire in the world. On a classical filmmaking level, he comes to it as a writer and that’s his training. He is very disciplined and documentaries are kind of a funny thing because they’re real life and you’re also making a movie. You take elements that you might see in dramatic film and apply them to a documentary genre. So you figure those things out and how that works. When you make a film like Last Days in Vietnam, people would come up to me all the time and say to me, ‘This is like a thriller. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.’ So you want people to be engaged, and to do that you have to incorporate writing and structure techniques that are going to deliver that, obviously not at the expense of truth, but by sticking to the story at hand. You’re making choices that help make the audiences feel engaged. So I think in that capacity he’s made an enormous contribution to all the films I’ve made.

Finish the following sentences:

A documentary should teach you…

I think the great thing with documentaries is that you can have a sense of compassion and understanding of people or stories or situations that might be foreign to you and that you might not experience in your own life. And I think that is especially important in this day and age when there is such divisiveness in our country and there is a lack of understanding of how people are feeling on the other side. I think that documentaries can help bridge those gaps. It can show why somebody does what they do and have the story that they have. I think it can really teach – if you want me to be literal – compassion.

A documentary should never…

Not be truthful…

A Kennedy is…

A lot of things.

A Kennedy always…

That’s difficult because with the Kennedys there are a lot of us with so many different and varied interests, so that’s impossible to answer.

A great film should always…

Inspire.

What is the hardest aspect of being a documentary filmmaker?

The hardest thing about making documentaries is that they are hard. It’s like writing a book. You have to do the work. There is not a formula. Each one creates its own challenges. There is funding; figuring out the story; filming people; getting people to say yes when they often say no; figuring out what the story is in the editing room; distribution and getting it out to the public. I love all the challenges and they’re always new and they keep you on your toes. I appreciate that about film.

When you leave the planet, hopefully many years from now, what do you hope people say about you and your films? 

I would hope that these films helped deepen people’s understanding, bridged divides, created more compassion, and ultimately led to policies that helped people live healthier and live to their fullest potential.

Spoken like a true Kennedy.

Real Talk

People, places and things with Sheryl Vieira and Salena Wilhoit

We approach life with the desire to help others, to offer friendship, care, concern and encouragement. As the saying goes, what are we here for if not to make life easier for each other? This month, the people of Sarasota and her sister islands stayed true to doing just that.

From the caregiving that Tidewell Hospice provides to those in their most critical time of life and need, to studying our waters for better living and health, to wishes provided by Make-A-Wish Foundation to children with life-threatening illnesses and their family members who need a few days of fun in their lives, our community was there to help every step of the way.

You Can Curry Love

Ann Curry recently paid a special visit here to speak at the annual Tidewell Hospice Signature Luncheon sponsored by Caldwell Trust Company and SunTrust Private Wealth among others. This is Tidewell’s opportunity to celebrate the compassionate spirit that is the foundation of their care. In honor of that spirit, Emmy Award-winning journalist Ann Curry, also an experienced caregiver, shared her personal story for the first time publicly about the care giving of her father. Most of us love our parents so much that we want them to live forever, which if really reflected upon, is quite selfish of us, isn’t it? We need to kindly, lovingly and respectfully let them go in peace and verbalize this to them. Ann did the opposite and lives with that decision every day.

Ann’s father, a career Navy man, knew he was at the end of his life. But he also knew that his family wanted him to try everything – even the most painful treatment. In his last act of love for his family, he submitted to more painful treatments in the last weeks of his life. Ann said it was very painful to watch.

She remembers asking him, “Dad, are you ready for hospice?” He said, “Yes.” And then she heard that old sailor say, “Ann, I can feel the ship turning. We are moving to face into the wind.” He was smiling broadly at some distant horizon. All in the family wished he had more of those kinds of moments, but her family wasn’t ready for hospice at that time. They so wish they were. When your loved ones get to that point in their lives, the empathy and kindness hospice gives them is the most incredible gift we can give to our loved ones; the utmost respectful end of life – ultimate caregiving.

The most adorable part of the event was her choice of attire. She wore a dress that bore the words “LOVE” on her hem, and she shared that she wore it specifically for the largest crowd for Tidewell – 800+ compassionate guests. She is as gracious and kind as they come. What a woman of strength and absolute class!

Seen were Gerry Radford, CEO of Tidewell, Denise Pope, Hayley Wielgus, Kelly and Melissa Caldwell, Tom and five-time event chair Cindy Stuhley, Jan Miller, incoming board chair, Jim Culter, Phil and Julie Delaney, Kristine Nickel, Chris and Paula Gray, Sandy Pepper, John Booth and Tramm Hudson.

Up the Creek with a Paddle

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program offers sustainable kayak eco-tours throughout Sarasota Bay in high season. Guided tour expert Brad Tanner offers various eco-tours along the Gulf Coast, where his guests discover the habitats and wildlife that make Sarasota Bay an estuary of national significance. The Sarasota Baywise Kayak Tours run from December through April.

We went on one and were lucky to witness not only Brad in action, but also two other experts he had arranged to join us. Dr. Ryan Schloesser is a Mote scientist who has been studying Phillippi Creek using an advanced automated system to track how snook use the variety of habitats this creek has to offer. The other special guest was naturalist John Ryan, Sarasota County Environmental Manager and advocate for the Phillippi Creek watershed. All three shared their knowledge, expertise and insights.

Automated systems that are completely self-powered by solar energy help assess which habitats snook prefer and garner insight to the health of the creek and how fish-friendly the waters are. Dr. Schloesser released over 1200 snook with passive integrated transponder tags. When the snook pass over the habitat at a designated station, Mote scientists know the tag numbers of the fish that were there, what time they were there and how long they stayed. Their main goal is to assess in which shorelines the snook are spending time. To date, their near real-time data depicts 130,000 data points from the snook they’ve put in the creek. Dr. Schloesser who recently spoke on enhancing snook populations at Mote’s Special Lecture Series.

Twelve other paddlers enjoyed the camaraderie, the sunshine and snook-filled creek! The late Jack Taylor, a respected marine biologist, launched the kayak eco-tour program in 2007 with a Bay Partners Grant.

Seriously Hollywood 

Seriously intelligent. Seriously funny. Seriously tall. We are speaking of Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis, one of Hollywood’s most respected actors. Her work is amazing and so are her numbers. She was here for the Ringling Town Hall Lecture Series and spoke to a crowd of approximately 1000.

Davis is a member of the genius society Mensa and is recognized for her tireless advocacy. She is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a nonprofit that engages film and television creators, and soon, editors, to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters. She is also reducing gender stereotyping in media for children 11 and under, including her own children. She recently launched the Bentonville Film Festival, the only film festival in the world to offer the winners guaranteed theatrical distribution from AMC Theaters and home entertainment and digital distribution from Walmart. Now that’s a tall order!

Seen in the Van Wezel crowd were Rochelle Nigri, Sylvia Earle, Patrick Duggan, Knickole Barger, and RCAD president Dr. Larry Thompson.

Synergy and Miracles: Circus Sarasota

When Nik Wallenda recently said, “The show must go on,” he wasn’t kidding. “Synergy” was the name of Circus Arts Conservatory’s 20th anniversary production and the “synergy” of this circus has left us speechless. The show was jam-packed with amazing talent. Each act astounded us. I felt like I was witnessing a live taping of America’s Got Talent. Our jaws dropped over and over again. You expect to see Dolly Jacobs in her signature attire, but when she comes out and performs, you witness true beauty and elegance. It’s pretty special to witness in person. Think she offers lessons on how she flies like that?

As aerialist Nik Wallenda and his Fabulous Wallendas troupe/family started their performance as the last act in the show, the entire tent went silent. Everyone was holding his or her breath. We all let out a big sigh of relief once that last foot reached the platform. Afterwards, Nik shared the tragic story of the five performers that were hospitalized during rehearsals. Two are recovering and will be fine. He thanked God for the miracles they’ve received to date and asked us to continue our prayers for those still needing them. He said, “I think it’s important that you know I don’t go up there because of pride. I go up there because this is my passion. My great-grandfather said it best, ‘Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.’ Our family purpose in life is to bring joy, bring laughter and entertain.”

The Wallenda family has lived by three words. They are, “never give up.” They haven’t, they won’t and neither will we! On with the show and oh, what a show it was!

Opus One and Can We Get a Second?

By definition, opus is a grand-scale creative work, and there’s not many who do grand scale better than Café L’Europe owners Ron Milton and Joe Balzano. Everything was grand at their recent Opus One wine dinner and mind you, it was a Wednesday evening! Men were dressed in black tuxes and women wore their best gowns for an exclusive wine dinner. Rose petals were appropriately laid on tables, and menus were wrapped in our black linen napkins to resemble a black tuxedo jacket.

We were treated to a first course of Black Opal Caviar accompanied by 2007 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne! I had to be careful with it being a school night for this one. Cristal was conceived in 1876 by Tsar Alexander II and it consists of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The 2007 vintage is highly regarded and we could taste why! Our second course was a plentiful lobster thermidor. Oh my. It was a healthy size of creamy, brandy-infused Maine lobster with Gruyere crust. It simply melted in your mouth. With this course, we were poured a 2006 Opus One Proprietary Red. Silky, smooth and rich. It also went down so easily. What a great complement to this exquisite course. It is always so appreciated when the chef and winemaker truly take the time to make exceptional food and wine pairings. Our third course consisted of Carre D’Agneau (rack of lamb) from Australia with Forrest mushroom pudding and a red wine reduction. The perfect finish was a cheese trio of a raspberry Brie wheel on toast point, a Granny Smith apple Roquefort and candied pecans, which was swirled with Overture by Opus One. Tres magnifique!

Throughout the evening, guests were treated to sweet music by opera singer Joe Ryan, and Sarasota Orchestra core violinist Margot Zarzyka. And just to keep things extra interesting, one of the restaurant servers, Cassandra Calo, brought out her bagpipes for guests to enjoy! The Opus One representative graciously brought a small orchid in individual Opus One vases for each guest to take home. Seen sipping Opus at this unforgettable event were Jerry and Faye Bainbridge, Ernie and Patty Garcia, Dina and Graeme Malloch, Andrew Vac, Ramona Glantz, Dr. Burr Bakke and Dr. Jill Morris. We departed happily entertained and plumply full. When is the second?

Are You in Your Maximum Space?

What an interesting question. Why do I (Sheryl) not do yoga more than once every six months? It’s so good for our heart, mind, body and soul and I fight it. If you haven’t ever tried it, I beg you to do so. I finally experienced a yoga session with Meg Metcalf of The Yoga Shack. She was extremely experienced, mindful and down to earth. She had assistance through Tani Parkinson and Jordan Mcpherson. This session was different, all right. We were set up in front of the shark tank at Mote, for one. They didn’t seem to mind us using their space as we found ours. I’m sure the sharks appreciated when we all finally settled in and quieted our minds and gently stretched our bodies to its maximum space. Ahhhh…a beautiful Saturday morning with sun salutations and sharks.

Meg donates her time at various nonprofits every month and seeks to raise funds through a suggested donation. Some really good vibes there, people!

By the Crystal Waters of Cortez

We took a step back in time as we meandered through the charming rows of tin-roofed fishing cottages leading us to the entrance of the 35th annual Cortez Fishing Festival in the historic and quaint Cortez Village. There is lots of really fun people watching, and witnessing them celebrating this event, each other and their love of the sea, as well as all those that live in it, makes this such a unique event.

Proceeds from the two-day event go to the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) which works to keep 95 acres of mangrove wetlands shoreline on Sarasota Bay, plus a new land parcel in the middle of the FISH preserve, safe and protected from development.

We paid the admittance fee and took immediate cover from the rain inside the Florida Maritime National Museum. While we were perusing the nautical library, singing arose from the wooden rafters and landed softly upon us. We placed our books back and followed the music into the main gallery and spotted four sailors gleefully singing – no instruments, just the tapping of their feet and their alto voices. It was The Shanty Singers, some wearing their sailor hats. We couldn’t help but smile. As soon as the rain took a break, we headed outside to the now thinned-out crowd at the festival.

Crawfish, seafood gumbo, smoked fish, steamed clams, adult beverages served in coconuts and a plethora of beer were served over and over again. Attendees enjoyed country music and bluegrass bands, face painting, boat rides, marine life talks, and area artists showcasing their nautically themed works of art. This event is a gentle reminder of the simpler days and we look forward to it every year – rain or shine!

Chamber Catches Time with the Orioles

Baltimore Orioles baseball players, community supporters, and business leaders recently indulged in baseball banter and the excitement of this spring-launched sport during the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Spring Training Welcome Reception at The Francis. Stats, schedules and starting line-ups were discussed and jerseys were distributed to the lucky sponsors.

Seen were Sarasota Chamber’s new president Kevin Cooper, Vice President Brittany Lamont, Orioles Sarasota Vice President David Rovine, JJ Hardy, Mychal Givens, John Angelos and Dan Duquette. Event sponsors were Synovus Bank, Tableseide Restaurant Group, Sarasota Ford, Orioles players Zach Britton and Chris David, and manager Buck Showalter.

Wishin’ in the Kitchen

Make-A-Wish Executive Director Rebecca Blitz, advisory board members, event co-chairs Renee Phinney and Terri Shea-Klauber and their committee broke another fundraising record for this annual, highly interactive, sold out cooking event. A special group of caring individuals led by Tom and Linda Doan along with colleagues, friends and family presented a $56,000 check to the organization. Other funds were raised by the Hawaiian-themed luncheon by way of a chance drawing, silent auction, and a raffle for one lucky winner to enjoy a $2,250 day of spa services at The Met, a live auction and a paddle raise. A wish-receiving family said it best as they spoke of Make-A-Wish and the impact it had on their family: “Make-A-Wish granted our family a wish, but they also helped our family become a family again.” Congratulations to all, as more than $300,000 was raised to assist in granting more wishes! Those in the crowd adorned in Hawaiian leis were Susie Pelton, Sandy Albano, Beth Knopik, Phil and Kim Mancini, Susan Jones, Ariane Dart, Sally Schule, Tamara Curry, Leslie Cornell Anders, Kristiana Powers, Holly Holton, Eric Moilanen and Megan Micale.

And lastly, speaking of always lifting others up, we were both saddened by the news of the unexpected passing of the kind, humble, and sweet actor Bill Paxton. We both met him while he was here a few years ago for the Sarasota Film Festival thanks to Mark Famiglio. In remembrances of him on various media sites and social outlets, many spoke of Bill’s positivity and how he always helped others. He fit right in with our Sarasota residents. We wish his wife of thirty years and their two children love and peace.

A Hot Night in Indian Wells

SCENE’s editor Julie Milton questions tennis icon Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA.

I was trying to act as if it wasn’t my first time. Cool. Confident. Relaxed. There I was, sitting six feet away from tennis icon and my tennis idol – ROGER FEDERER – one of the most famous athletes of all time, and a genuine nice guy. I was wearing my press credentials proudly around my neck as I was called on to ask him the first question of his second round press interview after he walloped Stephane Robert in just 51 minutes on a hot night at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

“Roger, you were moving amazingly well out there. Great match tonight. How are you feeling? How’s the knee?” I know what you’re thinking. That’s the best you could come up with?  Well, when Roger Federer is looking at you from six feet away, yes, that was the best I could do. He looked right at me, only me, as he gave me his thoughtful reply.

Star-struck

After they moved on to the next journalist’s question, I don’t think I heard another question after mine. I was, for the first time in my life, dazed and star struck. I’ve met Sinatra, Pavarotti, Liza Minnelli, Dean Martin, and a host of other well-known celebrities. They, too, were great, but none could compare to being face to face with King Roger.

He glided into the media interview room for his post-match press conference just as he glides on the court. Just before sitting down, he smiled at everyone and said, “Are you all waiting for me?”  Yes, there is no one else I would be waiting for, I thought to myself.

Dina Malloch, my good friend and “official trip photographer” was seated right next to me, snapping away as Roger answered my question. After the interview was over, we walked out in disbelief, both confessing to be a bit shaken. We had been six feet away from our tennis god. He spoke to us. Life would never be the same. There’s a reason his initials are RF – they are the middle letters of the word PERFECT – and that pretty much sums up Roger Federer.

But let’s go back to the beginning…

We excitedly arrived at the Miramonte Resort, a short distance from the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens. The smell of sweet orange blossoms permeated the well-maintained hacienda-style property. It was heavenly. For the next two mornings, we started our day playing in tennis clinics at another exquisite resort – LaQuinta – before heading over to watch tennis.

Billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle fame owns the Tennis Gardens. He has made great improvements to this tournament, including major renovations to the main stadium, putting shot spot on every court in the stadium, installing lots of Brita water fountain stations to refill water bottles, and providing great dining choices including Nobu and Chop House on the well-planned and easily navigable grounds.

In addition, he brought in fresh young blood – ATP player Tommy Haas – to be the tournament director for what is considered to be the “fifth major” after the four actual tennis majors – the US Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. There was one thing, however, that even Larry Ellison couldn’t improve – the weather.

Typical temps for early March are in the low to mid-80s; however, this time the mercury hit the mid to upper 90s the entire four days we were there with no cloud cover.  Most were sitting in the stands with towels covering them (including me) because we would have burnt to a crisp. The exception was Dina, whose golden brown Syrian skin remained unaffected. Really? Not fair!

Great fun. Great times. Great tennis.

Of course, the heat did not stop us from watching matches all day and all night. As we had tickets to the day and night sessions for four days, we saw the flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini beat the number-seven seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the adorable Vasek Pospisil (affectionately called Popsicle by the fans because no one wants to pronounce his last name) impressively attack the defensive skills of world number-one Andy Murray, resulting in the biggest upset of the tournament. We cheered with thousands of fans for an injured Venus Williams to come back from the brink of a beatdown by Jelena Jankovic – and she did. We rooted for the young underdog from Great Britain, Kyle Edmund, who, for several games, was getting the better of world number-two Novak Djokovic. We giggled at the great showmanship of Frenchman Gael Monfils as he took on the big serving, giant American John Isner. Great fun. Great times. Great tennis.

Incidentally, the weather had a positive effect that made Dina and I very happy. The heat and dry desert air causes the tennis ball to fly even faster in the air and makes the court play very fast. PeRFect conditions for King Roger’s game.  He loves fast courts – the faster the better.

Back to reality

Regrettably, we had to leave after our four days of tennis nirvana to head back home to life and reality, but Roger would go on to easily beat his longtime nemesis Rafael Nadal in the round of 16; he got a walkover when his opponent in the quarter-final, the dangerous Nick Kyrgios, was not able to play that day; he played another strong match to defeat American Jack Sock in the semi-final, and he convincingly beat his Swiss compatriot, Stan Wawrinka, to take the title. Even at the ancient tennis age of almost 36, King Roger reigns once again.

If you’re a tennis fan and like traveling to see your favorite tennis stars, I highly recommend going to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which takes place every March. From the many amenable volunteers to the people who sit next to you in the stands, the atmosphere is friendly, accommodating and fun. You get to see your favorite players practicing in an easy, non-stress environment. The outer courts are well-designed and within close proximity of each other and with shot spot, they offer an exciting, more intimate atmosphere. Attending the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is a special trip to a very special place and one I will not soon forget. I highly recommend putting this trip on your bucket list.

 

BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

 

BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

The stands at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

Roger Federer signs an autograph at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

Press conference at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California

 

Variety Names Ringling College Film Program Head Mentor of the Year

Los Angeles-based Variety magazine has named Ringling College Film Program Head Bradley Battersby as the 2017 Variety Mentor of the Year.

“Since the inception of our Film Program ten years ago, Brad has built an environment of creative experimentation that allows our students to flex their storytelling muscles while developing professional-level production expertise,” said Dr. Larry R. Thompson, President of Ringling College. “We congratulate Brad on this singular recognition and thank Variety for honoring Brad as their 2017 Mentor of the Year.”

The article is available in the April 25th issue of Variety magazine and online at VARIETY.com. Battersby, when asked about his teaching style, said, “In a film school environment, we get to experiment, we get to learn. I allow and encourage my students not to take the safe route.”

In speaking of this honor, he goes on to say, “Being named Variety’s Mentor of the Year is an incredible honor and something I couldn’t have achieved without my top-notch faculty and staff, amazing students, and a college like Ringling, unafraid of change, innovation and progress.”

“I allow and encourage my students not to take the safe route.”

…and that’s not all…

Also cited in the Variety article is Ringling College’s Studio Lab Program, created by the College and David Shapiro of Semkhor Productions, which has brought guest artists including Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Magnificent Seven” director Antoine Fuqua to Ringling to work with students. In addition, students have earned professional credits in three in-house Studio Lab projects, including two web series created and directed by Justin Long and Dylan McDermott, and the Sundance independent feature “Dark Night,” directed by Tim Sutton.

ringling mentor

About Ringling College of Art and Design

For 85 years, Ringling College of Art and Design has cultivated the creative spirit in students from around the globe. The private, not-for-profit fully accredited college offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in ten disciplines and the Bachelor of Arts in two. The College’s rigorous curriculum employs the studio model of teaching and immediately engages students through a comprehensive, first-year program that is both specific to the major of study and focused on the liberal arts. The Ringling College teaching model ultimately shapes students into highly employable and globally aware artists and designers. For more information please visit the Ringling College website at www.ringling.edu, or on social media: FacebookInstagram  and Twitter; or call 941.351.5100.

 

Source: 
Rich Schineller
941.780.8100
rschinel@ringling.edu

Scenes from an Interview: Mary Manilla

Gus Mollasis interviews award-winning journalist Mary Manilla

She is a woman who knows a thing or two about space, and has always been willing to fight for it. As a journalist, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her series on the suitability of women for space flights, a series that opened the door for women to participate in NASA missions. To prove that her concerns weren’t entirely out of this world, she harnessed her reporting skills on important things happening on planet Earth and earned another Pulitzer Prize nomination for her series on civil rights. She’s always been comfortable and effective with the big interviews, whether it’s discussing pressing social issues with the likes of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, or highlighting the talents of Jack Benny, or the eccentricities of Andy Warhol. And there were more big stars to cover. Muhammad Ali. Jerry Lewis. Heck, even John Glenn gave her pointers on how to pass astronaut tests when she did her series on space.

Through all the deadlines and bylines, Mary Pangalos Manilla, the first woman on-air correspondent for CBS News, has always been there, supremely focused with her fabulous blue eyes, getting the story and getting it right. Her readers could always count on her for what she calls her duty – “Ask the questions that they (the readers) would want to ask if they were on the job.”

As I visited with Mary at her home in southern Manatee County, I knew I would be hearing some interesting insights on broad-ranging subjects from a woman who has lived a fascinating life. I was sure that the scenes from an interview of her life would be everything I thought and then some.

 

Where do you come from? 

I can trace my roots to the Greek Island of Thasos. We come from a very old family and according to my now deceased mother, we are related to the great philosopher Aristotle. (Laughs) Everyone on the island makes that same claim. (Laughs) I was born in Manhattan. I’m a New Yorker.

 

Write the lead to what your childhood looked like. 

I lived a very adventurous life in my imagination. When I was born, all the GI’s were coming home from the War and the stories back then were War stories. When I worked at Newsday, all my editors had War stories. When I grew up, I pictured myself as a General, nothing less than a General. It was a time of great heroism and pride. So I grew up wanting to be a hero.

 

When did you know you could write or when did the journalism bug hit you?

I was three years old and my mom was making the bed. There was a picture on the bedspread made with those knobby shaped things – a picture of young girl with a bonnet carrying a bucket with a little lamb next to her. And on the hill, you could see a well, and the whole thing was surrounded with these green and blue shaped things. My mother placed my hands on these blue shapes and said, “Mary had a little lamb.” And I had this epiphany. I realized that those were not just random designs, but were in fact words that communicated something. And if you knew words, you could tell stories; you could understand things and you could communicate. From that day on, I was infatuated with words. I became a bookworm early on. In fact, I read before I could talk. The first book I ever read was one of the Dick and Jane books. I had an aunt who gave me Little Women. I read everything from Treasure Island to Tom Sawyer. Whenever she came to visit, she gave me books, which I still have up on my shelf.

 

Was there a mentor or teacher who encouraged you?

My teacher in grammar school, Mrs. Kruztnis, would read to us in class. They would give you a book to teach you reading. I would finish the book the first week, so she was slipping me books on the side. She brought me into the library and I used to take out seven books at a time. She always stuck in my mind. Many years later, while I was working at Newsday, and I had just been nominated for my second Pulitzer, I was walking down Jamaica Avenue (in Queens, NY), and I saw her and shouted, “Mrs. Kruztnis!” She didn’t recognize me at first, but I went up to her and said, “I want to thank you for all you did for me, and what an incredible influence you were on my life.” She just stood there kind of stunned, but I felt so happy that I could thank her. Having the opportunity to thank her was a big highlight of my life.

 

What do you remember about your parents from early on? 

Mom was so quiet. She gave me one of those toy ovens and I remember thinking, “I don’t want that.” My brother was out in the street playing stickball and I said, “I want to go play.” She said, “You can’t do that.” And I said, “Why not?” And she said, “Because you’re a little girl.” And I said, “I don’t want to be a little girl. I want to go and play.” From that day on, she enrolled me in school sports programs and never gave me an oven again. My father couldn’t fight in the War because of an ear injury. He wasn’t a college graduate, but he was gifted. At work they would say to him, “We need a thing-a-ma-jig that could do so and so,” and he could come up with a way to do it. He had a workshop in the basement. I would watch him work. He once made a little necklace of airplanes for me.

 

What was your first job in journalism?

My first real job in journalism was Newsday. After graduation, I had a part-time job doing PR for the summer. It fed me. But everyone who knew me knew I wanted to be a reporter, and I wanted a job on Newsday. I found out that the managing editor, Alan Hathaway, had lunch every day at this Chinese restaurant. So I would go there. I had $10 to my name, and I would sit at the bar and order a Coca-Cola. He would come in and I was too shy to talk to him. But a lot of the other reporters came in for lunch, and the bartender got to know me as well as my motives. This happened for a while and it got to the point where all these reporters would leave notes on Mr. Hathaway’s desk telling him that there is this young girl who wants to be a reporter for Newsday and that he should interview me. Even the Chinese owner of the restaurant said to Mr. Hathaway, “You hire her. She nice girl.” Still nothing was happening, and I had to get a job. I was just about to give up when he came up to me and said, “I want to eat my lunch in peace. Report to work 9 o’clock Monday.” The obvious lesson there is persistence, because you know something? That’s what all bosses are looking for. Determination and persistence and someone who really wants and can do the job.

 

As a Newsday beat reporter, take me through a typical day of the challenges and the rewards. 

You never knew what to expect. That excited me. You could never be bored. I would walk in one day and they would say, “There’s this guy who is trying to set the World Underwater Record. We want you to interview him.” So I went home, got my bathing suit, and put on scuba gear. I had never used scuba equipment in my life. They gave me a brief lesson showing me how to breathe through my mouth and I went down there with a blackboard that I could write on and a photographer who had been a Navy Seal, figuring he’d look after me. During the interview, as I’m writing, I look over and I see the photographer lounging near the pool. And I’m struggling not to swallow water. As it turned out, they had to jump in to rescue him because he almost drowned. The adventure was always appealing, but it was after you built a rapport and the people trusted you. They gave you an assignment, and you went out and did it. You would come back and say, “It was a fire. It started like this and there are five people in the hospital.” Okay, 300 words. Boom. Then you wrote it and it was all yours. And then when you drove home at night, you repeated the story word by word to yourself, each sentence of your own writing.

 

Tell me about the importance of the byline for a writer.

To me it meant that I was accepted, and that I passed the bar so to speak, and that I was a real reporter.

 

You moved to the entertainment department and covered theater, film and celebrity interviews.

It sort of happened accidentally. After a couple of years, the entertainment editor asked me to work in his department. Here was a chance to write a feature, get a byline and be a columnist. Those were the best and most educational three years of my life. I learned so much.

 

What was your favorite entertainment feature? 

My favorite story was about Jack Benny I did for Newsday. He didn’t want to be interviewed because he felt he was above and beyond interviews. As his show ended at the Ed Sullivan Theater, he said to me, “You can talk to me as I’m going to my hotel.”  So as he’s running to his hotel, I’m asking him questions, and he’s mumbling, “Yeah, hmmm,” not even answering my questions. I said to him, “Are the rumors true about you being cheap?’ He mumbled again, “Hmmm.” I also asked him about his career. The same mumbled short answers. So I wrote this story, making up how cheap he was because he was walking to his hotel and that he collected nickels along the way to his hotel, and it was done in a funny light manner and not in a mean fashion. After the story, I actually got a note from Jack Benny, saying, “Good job.” (Laughs) When I came back to the office, I literally had no story, so I wrote about how he was living up to his character of walking to save money and that he was grumpy and unapproachable. I made up the whole thing and he wrote me a note. I was delighted because I had nothing when I came back to my typewriter. A similar thing happened when I interviewed Andy Warhol. He was looking off in the distance, not making eye contact with me. And this was live, and I was trying to ask him questions, and he’s saying, “Hmmm,” and not giving me anything and you can’t have dead air. So I’m throwing him softball questions like, “What’s your art all about?” He wouldn’t answer anything and once again I had nothing. My producer at CBS was mad as hell and said, “What do you mean that you couldn’t get anything?” Years later I’m at a Halston fashion show, and who is there but Andy Warhol. I went up to him and said, “Mr. Warhol, I just wanted you to know that you got me into a lot of trouble.” I told him the whole story and how I even gave him softball questions. He said, “It’s all about money.” And he took the Halston press kit out of my hand and wrote on it, “To Mary, ” wrote a dollar sign ($) and signed it “Andy Money.” (Laughs)

 

You were nominated for two Pulitzers. Tell me about that and what that means to you.

I should have won the first one, but then it was a man’s world. I broke the glass ceiling that got women into the NASA program with my space test results. I finagled my way into letting them give me the tests to see if women could take it. I remember going to my editor and saying, “Why can’t women be astronauts?” He said, “Great idea. Call Washington and take the tests.” They refused me at first, but I got in. It was incredible. I took every single test. I actually have the results memorized. They read, “As good as any man and better than most.” It proved that women could pass the test. One of the principles of being awarded the Pulitzer Prize is that my series helped achieve something worthwhile. After that, the door was open for women to enter the space program. Astronaut John Glenn actually mentored me and told me what to do to pass the tests. Without him, I wouldn’t have passed. Sadly they confiscated my camera, and wouldn’t even let me have a photograph with him.

 

The other Pulitzer nomination dealt with your series on civil rights. What was the focus of that series and how proud were you of that work?

The reason I was nominated was because I was one of the first people to say that this is coming and that it was a big issue, and a life-changing moment in our history. I was working in the entertainment department and interviewing people like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, who were furious about what was going on regarding their treatment. Every time I talked with them, they mentioned how they hated being stereotyped to play certain black roles and how they were treated in society. I thought that this is a hell of story. These were some of the most famous and talented people and this is how they were treated. In talking with them, I met many of the civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. I’ll tell you how discriminatory it was toward women at that time. Everyone was trying to get an interview with Muhammad Ali and they wouldn’t give any. One of the reasons I got the interview is I got friendly with Malcolm X. I said to him, “How could you discriminate toward me? We have the same color eyes.” He was part white. He didn’t say a thing then, but eventually he said, “Come here, you can interview him.” So I had the first interview with Ali and CBS would not run the interview because I was a woman so they arranged for a man to do the interview. I knew a thing or two about discrimination, that’s why I was drawn to doing the series on civil rights. And the story with the man interviewing Ali ran on CBS. I did get to interview Ali and he was the sweetest and nicest man. When he talked to me, I remember him saying that he wanted people to give him that pride and recognition. He felt that his religion called on him not only to be a good man, but a great man. And they didn’t use it.

 

With the release of the film Hidden Figures covering the role of African-American women in the space program, do you feel somewhat redeemed?   

Yes, absolutely. The recent death of John Glenn really hit me. In that movie the director includes a significant scene where the astronauts are visiting the staff. I met Cooper and Grissom and got to know them, but only John Glenn walked over to the African-American computer ladies and introduced himself. And when they couldn’t figure out the glitches on what was going wrong, Glenn got on the phone and he said to get the one who can fix it. When the asked which one, he said “The smart one.” I have nothing but admiration and gratitude regarding my personal experience with John Glenn. I had to take my tests in three days and the others took theirs in over three weeks. I remember having breakfast and someone coming up behind me and saying, “I understand that you’re here to take the astronaut test? Well, I’m John Glenn.” I was speechless. When my PR guy came on the scene, there I was with Cooper, Grissom and John Glenn busy taking notes. There is one test that I know John Glenn helped me with that prevented me from bodily injuries. They had one chair in which they strapped you in and you are jarred more than 1300 times a minute – a test that simulates reentry with severe G-forces. They want to see if you can take it. John said, “The only way you’re going to survive this test is by tensing every muscle in your body. Tense your neck or your head will fall off. Tense your stomach to protect your internal organs. Tense everything.” And I did, and that’s how I passed the test. John Glenn helped me by giving me advice and guidance. It was the best story of my life. I remember the publisher congratulated me and asked me how I felt. I remember saying, “I feel sad because I know that in my entire career I will never have a story as great as this.”

 

You went to the moon.

Yeah. (Smiles)

 

Do you consider yourself a journalist first and a filmmaker second?

A journalist. Even in film, I’m a storyteller.

 

Tell me about your work as a documentary filmmaker.

I received the greatest compliment of my career on my documentary work from legendary film critic Pauline Kael. She called me and said she had just finished watching my documentary The Year Time Changed. She asked me if she could have a print of my film because she teaches a class at Columbia University and wanted to show her class my film and to show them that this is how you make a documentary.

 

When you became a CBS reporter, were you nervous or fairly comfortable with the challenge?

I was ready and thought I would take that camera and combine pictures and words and tell great stories. I won that position over 10,000 applicants including Walter Cronkite’s niece. I remember Walter telling me, “I recommended my niece for that job and you got it.” I used to go into his office and cry on his shoulder. He was a nice man and he was a protégé of Edward R. Murrow. I remember him telling me that Murrow’s last words when he walked out of CBS were, “These people don’t know what the blank they want.” They wanted control. It was more entertainment. The biggest mistake of my life was to go from newspaper to TV. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed at Newsday. It was much more satisfying and truthful and it was really news. You were actually telling people what was going on.

 

What is the most important duty of a journalist? 

You are there to represent all the people who want to ask questions of these big figures and your job is to tell them the truth.

 

Who surprised you the most as being the most unassuming person you ever interviewed?

Laurence Olivier was the shyest and was very sweet. He spoke with his head down and was very humble. All the British were like that, really. Alec Guinness. Paul Scofield. Even Dudley Moore, whom I dated. He was so shy. I was a chatterbox and Dudley was a sweet charming man, but he had such a complex about being short. And I would say, “Oh come on Dudley, get over it.” And that’s why he liked me.

 

Who was the smartest person you ever interviewed?

Probably Bobby Kennedy. But he was a mean Irishman. Don’t kid yourself.

 

Strangest interview?

Probably Woody Allen. He sat about 20 feet away from me at his desk twisting paper clips nervously and when I finally asked him why, he said, “The very act of talking to another person makes me very nervous.” That was the weirdest interview of my life.

 

Finish the following sentences: 

A great journalist always …

Tells the truth.

 

When people read my stories I hope they…

Make up their own mind. I take the title of journalist very seriously. A reporter reports.

 

Writing to me is…

Hard. (Laughs)

 

The job of the press is…

Really to be a check and the balance to power.

 

A great documentary is one that…

Reveals something that should be revealed in a way people understand why it should be revealed.

 

 

My favorite word is…

Yes (Laughs)

 

My least favorite word is…

No. (Laughs)

 

A journalist should never be afraid to…

Stand up for what they believe in.

 

What did you consider your greatest skill or attribute as a journalist and filmmaker?

I really didn’t care if people liked me. I wanted them to like my work.

 

You’ve written a novel (Foretold), produced TV shows and series, and have written many articles. Where did you feel most comfortable and where did you find your greatest joy?

Writing stories for Newsday. A time period that lasted six years and brought me immeasurable joy and a lifetime of memories.

 

What is your advice to those who seek journalism as a profession?

Don’t go into for the money. Don’t go in it for fame. Go in it for the story. Not for yourself.

 

How did you find your way to Sarasota?

I came down on vacation fell in love with the palm trees, ducks, birds and nature of it all. The Selby Library was a clincher, too, in helping me want to stay here.

 

What do you like most about Sarasota? 

I like the people. They are so polite. And of course the eclectic arts scene. I once said that Sarasota is the one city that a New Yorker can be happy in.

 

What’s the one story you would love to cover in Sarasota that doesn’t get enough attention?

I would really like an investigative piece about development, and the relationship between development and politics, because I see all the things that make Sarasota so special can be buried. What’s happening here happened in New York City and California.

Please write the first line of your obituary that hopefully won’t be printed for many years to come.

She tried.

Real Talk

People, places and things with Sheryl Vieira and Salena Wilhoit

 

Living the Good Life

With this being Scene’s “Good Life” issue, we enjoyed having some deep, philosophical conversations about what constitutes the good life. We tossed around lots of ideas – some tangible and some intangible. But most of what we thought of as the good life all started with one basic premise – pursuing passions. Our friends, Chris and Laura Jessen, immediately popped into our minds as a couple who certainly seem to be leading the good life. They pursue their passion every day as they travel the world fishing on their Hatteras GT 63 called “Fish Tank”.

 

When they met in 1993, they not only discovered a deep love for each other, they also shared a love for fishing, which continued to grow every year. To have more time to pursue their shared passion, they sold their businesses in New York and Connecticut and relocated to Sarasota.

 

In 2011, they began building their Hatteras GT 63, aptly named “Fish Tank” for Chris’ love of reef aquarium design as well as his original business, which was also called Fish Tank. The Hatteras, along with their 16’ Hells Bay tender, are mainly kept in Costa Rica, but “Fish Tank” will be making a trip up to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico this summer. Laura, whose personal record for a black marlin catch is a 1,050-1,100 pounder she hooked in the Great Barrier Reef, hopes to someday beat her own record. Incredible! And I (Sheryl), thought my 90-lb. tarpon catch was special!

The Jessens split their time between Florida and Costa Rica depending on when and where the fish are biting. They can also be found catching tuna and stripers in the Northeast, hooking marlin and Pacific sailfish in Panama, and breaking angling records in fishing tournaments in Miami, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. You can also find them catching snook, redfish and tarpon in their own backyard, and supporting local causes such as Make-A-Wish Foundation Central and Northern Florida.

As if that’s not enough of the good life, the couple have recently completed a custom build-out of their 7,100-square-foot Siesta Key home built by Bruce Saba called Anglers Landing, where they love to entertain friends and family. Their Siesta Key estate overlooks our beautiful little Sarasota Bay and it’s where they keep their 36’ boat called “Invincible.”

Sounds like the good life to us. Skipper? You ready?

Real Town Talk

Have you been seen yet at the new “city grille”? That’s the new Mattison’s City Grille in Bradenton on the river! And we thought Paul Mattison had sworn that he would never open another restaurant! Paul told us, “It came together so quickly and was such a great opportunity, I just couldn’t say no! We celebrated our grand opening New Year’s Eve. Come on down to the river and visit us!”

Psssttt…did you hear? He asked her to marry him! They will wed in California in June. We’re talking about the lovely Jennifer Rust, known as one of the sweetest and most competent private banking professionals in town. Something told her to go on one last blind date and voila! Something clicked when they met. Drinks turned into dinner, and then the dashing Steve Johnson asked for a second date, a third, and many more. Their endearing courtship would eventually lead to Jen’s introduction to Steve’s precious three-year-old daughter, Isabella.

During a romantic holiday getaway, Steve proposed and gave Jen a beautiful band of diamonds. They will marry this summer in a romantic and intimate setting surrounded by family and close friends. From the lips of the beautiful bride-to-be, “After years of searching, it feels good to know that I will be spending the rest of my life with my best friend.” Passion for each other; passion for a life together; passion for family. Is there a better example of the good life than our dear friend’s discovery of true love?

For the Greater Good

Selah Freedom’s Fourth Annual Fashion Show “A New Beginning” recently took place at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. It was a powerful event. Passionate speakers shared stories about the plight of the exploited, bringing light into the darkness of sex trafficking. Proceeds from the event will sponsor 280 girls in Selah Freedom’s Teen Prevention Program, which far exceeded the organization’s goal of sponsoring 100 teens. Their goal for 2017 is to help 600 teens who have suffered through human trafficking. Event co-chairs were Donna Koffman and Tammy Karp. Speakers included the organization’s President and CEO Elizabeth Fisher, who was also recipient of the 2014 Tampa Bay Business Women of the Year Award in the non-profit category, Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, and survivor Rachel Pavone. Pam McCurdy emceed the luncheon and fashion show, which included models Mindy Fielding and Rebekah Mandeville, among others.

One of the most anticipated luncheons of the season is always the Junior League Legacy Luncheon, an annual event organized by its sustainers, which was created by former JL president Debbi Benedict 15 years ago. What makes this luncheon so special is not only the assembly of caring, powerful and motivated women, but the inspirational and thought-provoking speakers they bring to town every season. This time it was Hollywood nice guy, author Sam “Sammy” Haskell, best-selling author, Warner Bros. producer, and one of the 25 most innovative and influential people in television in the last 25 years. He did not disappoint.

Mr. Haskell shared many stories, including an interesting bit of old Hollywood about one of the most revered actors of all time – Miss Bette Davis. It seems that the resolute Miss Davis liked Sammy because of his propensity for never giving up or giving in. He was invited to a private birthday party at her home and was the only guest to arrive promptly at the suggested time. Everyone else was fashionably late. His promptness turned into his good fortune when he got to spend thirty minutes alone with Bette Davis. She took him on a tour of her home, which ended in her living room where she had her two Oscars. She took down her 1938 Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Jezebel” and said, “Mr. Haskell, do you know what this is? It’s my consolation prize from Mr. Jack Warner of the Warner Bros Studios for not letting me out of my contract so I could play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, and I’m still pissed about it!”

Another JL Legacy Luncheon highlight was the “Diamonds by the Yard” double strand necklace in 14-karat white gold featuring 15 diamonds to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the luncheon, which was donated by JL sustainer Belinda Coffrin of Coffrin Jewelers. Belinda has graciously donated a special piece of jewelry every year since the inception of the Legacy Luncheon.

Seen at this wonderful luncheon were co-chairs Kim Cornetet and Donna Mateer, Junior League president Britt Riner, Stacey Corley, Beth Knopik, Jessica Hays, April Glasco, Kaithlyn Carr, Leslie Jones, Cindy Stuhley, Nancy Bailey, Jamie Becker, Debbie Shapiro, Charlene Neal, Graci McGillicuddy, Kim Wheeler, Angie Stringer, Erin Duggan, Renee Phinney, Sandy Albano, Heather Clark, Katie Emmons, Cheryl Burstein, Cornelia Matson and Renee Hamad. You’ll soon be hearing more about the League as Stacey Corley has big plans to celebrate their 60th anniversary next month.

The Venice YMCA hosted their 30th Annual Diamonds and Pearls Black-Tie Gala co-chaired by Wendy Fishman of Caldwell Trust Company, Michelle Hazeltine of Hazeltine Nurseries and philanthropist Tiffany Taylor. Friends old and new raised their paddles and danced the night away as the ladies dazzled in their diamonds and pearls, worn to signify the Y’s diamond anniversary. Seen were Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines, Susan Hines, Sheriff Tom and Tracy Knight, Ed and Elizabeth Campbell, Lee and Suzanne Thacker, Kelly and Melissa Caldwell, Christine Robinson, CJ Fishman, Evan Duke, Brent Greeno, Jim and Michelle Butler, Daniela Koci, John and Michelle Williams, and Patrick and Kecia Dorsey. The newest member of the Sarasota School Board, Eric Robinson, won the navy blue 2016 Jeep Patriot Sport SUV. It’s nice when karma comes back around, as Eric recently volunteered as a custodian at Venice Elementary for their 3-11 p.m. shift. What a great start of the year for Eric!

Final Thoughts

If the good life starts with pursuing your passions, perhaps we should never lose sight of how fortunate we all are to live in a country that gives us the opportunity to be whatever we want to be. To dream. To live. To learn. To love. We don’t think one should ever lose sight of that. So simple. So true.

We’ll be back next month with more Real Talk, but for now, here’s something to ponder:

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” –  Carl Rogers