Leon Graham Interview
This is file #49, cycle 3. Today’s date is August 3, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Leon Graham who is going to talk about how he came to the area, his work with the Lakeville Journal, the Friends of the Scoville Memorial Library and the Salisbury Forum. First we will start with…
JM:What is your name?
JM:You came to this area in a very unusual way in 2005. You came to Noble Horizons.
LG:I did. I came to recover from some abdominal surgeries. I had had three surgeries in 6 days at the Weill Cornell Hospital in New York City. I either would not or could not walk. I could not get out of bed on my own. Eventually I ended up in Noble Horizons.
JM:It must have done a very good job because you chose to stay in the area.
LG:Yes, I chose to stay in the area after the first few months because I was too weak I thought to go back to New York City. Now I have too much and I just kept staying. I am now in a cottage at Noble.
JM:Yo0u work for the Lakeville Journal.
JM:You are a copy editor?
LG:I am the ONLY copy editor.
JM:What does a copy editor do?
LG:At the Lakeville Journal I read all of the copy that come from the editors which means from Cynthia Hockswender for the Lakeville Journal, from Whitney at the Millerton news and Anne Day for Compass. I read all the copy after they have done their editing on it. I look for grammatical errors, spellings, stylistic errors. We follow the Associated Press Style Book slavishly. Sometimes I change things for better sense. That is what I do.
JM:You also write for the Compass.
LG:I do. I write movie reviews, art reviews, and theater reviews, which I think I may give up. People criticize me too much. Joking, of course!
JM:It is perfectly acceptable to make your opinion known.
JM: You joined the Friends of the Scoville Memorial Library when you came to town.
LG:I don’t remember what year it was. I was asked by Inge Heckel (See file #26, cycle 2, Inge Heckel) who was President of the board of the Friends of the Scoville Memorial Library to join. I did.
JM:You had an office. You were recording secretary.
LG:Eventually she persuaded me to be recording secretary which was a very bad decision on her part and on my part too. I am not meant to be a recording secretary for any organization or any one! I was terrible.
JM:It is a tough job. Are you on that board any longer?
LG:No. Walter de Melle who was then President of the Salisbury Forum asked me to if I would join that board of directors. I agreed. Then I thought that I really should not be on both boards of directors. I really did not have time to do both. Also I didn’t want to be recording secretary any more. I resigned from the Friends.
JM:I know you were on the board from 2010 to 2012 because that was when I was on the Friends Board.
The Salisbury Forum began in 2005. You were asked by Walter de Melle. How many were on the board at that time?
LG:I think the by-laws were the same then. The by-laws new allow 15 board members. It may have been then that there were only 12 or 13, but no more than 15.
JM:The terms of office are?
LG:You can have up to 3 2 year terms, and then you must go off the board for at least a year. If you choose and the board chooses, you can be elected once again. I am not on the board anymore; my final term ended in June 2018. The Forum operates a July 1 to June 30 cycle. There are 2 “new” members of the board who went off last year and they have chosen to come back, Janet Webber and Bill Littauer. He is a wonderful treasurer.
JM:Were you an officer at the time you were on the board of the Salisbury Forum?
LG:Yes, after I had been on the board for a year, Walter appointed my to the nominating committee and the next year, the nominating committee chose to nominate me as Vice President which I realized then that in all likelihood, I would become President after Walter. I asked if I could think about it. I wasn’t sure that I was really going to be as good a president, remotely as Walter had been. Walter has a very powerful personality. (See file #88, Walter de Melle) I did say yes. Then in the spring that very year Walter became ill and I started acting as President. Then I was President for the rest of the time I was on the board until last year when I would not let them re-elect me. I wanted Donald Ross to be President (See file #47, cycle 3, Donald Ross) for his last two years of term. I was acting President for ½ a year and then I was President for the next 2 years, about 2015-16.
JM:What do you do as President?3.
LG:You preside at the board meetings: you come up with the agenda for the board meetings. You appoint the committees which really is seeking volunteers to be on committees. There aren’t many committees. You introduce each program in person or choose somebody to do it for you. I started from the beginning of my time to have other people introduce speakers which I felt was appropriate. Walter introduced the speaker at every program, and I had up until that time, but I thought it should be spread around and among the board members. You write the President’s letter for each program that is circulated at every program that the Forum sponsors. Donald for example has taken on collecting names of people who come to the programs. He mans a table or has other board members ask people if they are on our mailing list, which has been very helpful. We have a very large E-mail list now. (Donald told me over 1,000 names on his list. Ed.)
JM:You also in connection with the Lakeville Journal write all the advance material to promote the programs.
LG:I do. Yes that just happened since I work there. I asked Cynthia if she would accept an advance article on the next speaker. She said sure so I write it for free! I do that for each presentation. I was preparing to do it for September, but the woman who was coming in September had cancelled, unfortunately. She would have been very interesting. She apparently thinks she is going to get an assignment to work in Mexico and she wants to leave herself open to that. She has written extensively about politics in Europe and the plight of Jewish people in Europe these days. She would have been fascinating.
JM: Who is the new president?
LG:The new president is (I hate to say this) the first woman Mary Close Oppenheimer. She will do a bang-up job.
JM:Where are the lectures held?
LG:We use one of three venues: either at Hotchkiss School, or Salisbury School or at the high school. One time we had Amy Chua who wrote the book about the confessions of a Tiger Mom. She is a professor at Yale and her husband is also a law professor at Yale. They chose to come in December on a Friday night. We could not get any of the other three venues. I was sitting in the parking lot of the Post Office and looked across the street at the steeple of the Congregational Church. Well why not? I went over and introduced myself to Diane Monti-Catania. (See file #9, cycle 3, Rev. Diane Monti-Catania) I asked if she would be willing to let us have the program there, and she said, that if nothing was scheduled we could use it. So we had it there. We had the whole downstairs full and part of the upstairs. The only trouble was that their new sound system wasn’t as good as they thought it was. It was a good place to have it. It is nice to have it in reserve.
JM:How many events do you do a year?
LG: When they started, they only did 2 I think. They worked up to three. We do 5 now plus we do 2 film forums. Although I think one of those will go away. Civic Life may or may not continue. (See file #48, cycle 2, Bill Willis) We will still do a documentary film forum at the Movie House in either January or February.
JM:I am assuming these are all well attended.
LG:Well it varies. We have gotten as many as 450 people which apparently is not anything compared to what they got when they first started. Franck de Chambeau was saying at the Oppenhiemer’s a couple of week ago when they had Sander Van Ocher and Dan Rather they had many hundreds of people. I don’t know where they put them! (See file #46, cycle 2, Franck-Alsid de Chambeau) We were very happy; we had to turn people away from Salisbury School auditorium. It was kind of pitiful away for Mark Bitman, NY Times food critic, who was terrible. It was a shame, too. The late comers we just couldn’t fit them in because of fire regulations. We have had big audiences sometimes as Hotchkiss
We had a very small audience for Hannah Tagje from Jacob’s Pillow. She is a pianist. That was too bad because it was a fascinating program. She had lots of visuals and really interesting information and lot of which I digress to mention. They have a program where students come to Jacob’s Pillow during the off-season. They study there. The students went into2 sixth grade classes either in Gt. Barrington or Pittsfield, and spent one or two weeks teaching mathematics using dance. On a state test that year those two classes so out did every other class in the town. It had an enormous effect on the scores. I don’t remember the town, but the difference in scores between those 2 classes and all the others in town were so significant. It was a great program.
JM:When you attend a Salisbury Forum program is there a fee for it?
LG:No. It is free. Free for all.
JM:The idea behind that is that to get as many people of various interests and income levels as possible.
LG:That’s true. Also it is one of those things that we feel makes life here better. It makes our community even more attractive than Nature has already made it. There are other speaker programs, for example Kent has one that the library sponsors, but you must pay to attend. Usually the fee is $20 I think. No, ours is free. We have a core audience who come all the time, and then we have second tier of audience that come for often than not, but then we have an audience that varies from speaker to speaker. For example when we had Ralph Nader, we had a very large audience and we had people coming from a great many far-flung towns. I think part of that was that he publicized himself. It was a splendid program. He is a wonderful speaker and he is really good at Q&A.
JM:I have a wonderful Ralph Nader story told to me by Donald Ross. (See file #47, cycle 3, Donald Ross) It was priceless.
LG:That is the word for him. Richard Blanco was one of the first programs that I dealt with. Walter had already signed him up after he saw him read his poem at Obama’s Inauguration. We had a very sizeable Latino contingent. He is Cuban. It depends on the speaker. Audience size varies.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview before we close?
LG:No, I have enjoyed it very much.
JM:Thank you so much.