Wednesday, April 20, 2005

An Extraordinary Man Visits the Tall City ...

NOTE: This has been sitting in the "Draft" folder for nearly a week. It was time to knuckle-down, finish the post, and publish the dog-gone thing.

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The latest installment of the Davidson Lecture Series at Midland College was an especially important one for me. The speaker was Richard Leakey ... writer, politician, environmentalist, advocate and - most significant for me - paleontologist.

It was the work of Richard Leakey and his family, among others, that inspired me to study anthropology in school, then pursue my own career as an archaeologist through the mid-80s. And while the foci of our work was different, we shared a desire to better understand humanity and its development through the study of its remains ... and the remains of those who paused at one point or another along the evolving path that led to homo sapiens sapiens.

It isn't often one gets a chance to meet an inspiration ....

While he's best known for his work in paleontology, Leakey is also accomplished in many other areas ... an environmentalist and ecologist seeking a reasonable balance in an unreasonable world, for example, and a government reformer in a land where bullets are as much a part of the political process as ballots. He is the author of over 100 books and articles on a variety of topics.

He is also an accomplished speaker ... that would have been apparent in any context. But it was especially obvious as it came on the heels of two brief - and pretty lame - presentations by Midland College officials, one of whom was pleased to introduce Richard "Lively."

Leakey's presentation, delivered in an easy manner that reflected his African colonial origins, was both entertaining and informative, and was often highlighted by sparks of humor - some of which he directed towards himself. One of my favorites was his answer to a question about whether or not there might still be some Neanderthals among us. Another was his recollection of a prosthetic leg (he lost both his legs in a plane crash) breaking on him in the middle of a busy London street.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of his presentation was its calm, and reasonable delivery. I realize that many of you have a pre-conceived notion, a wild-eyed, ranting stereotype that comes to mind when you think 'environmentalist,' or 'evolutionist.' Yet, here was someone who could come to Midland, Texas, and speak about global warming, wildlife preservation and evolution ... and we listened. I wonder if one of the greatest obstacles to discussion of topics such as these is that we leave the extremists on both sides of the issue to engage in the debate ... and all this accomplishes is increased polarization that makes accommodation and resolution difficult, if not downright impossible.

All in all, it was a great evening, and I am grateful to the supporters of the Davidson Lecture Series for making it possible.

5 comments:

Pancho said...

I've been to almost every one of the lecture series. David McCullough, who I met, and Ken Burns being favorites.

Also included in that group is Shelby Foote whom I got to spend some time with at the reception in his honor. My sister, being a big Civil War devotee, flew in from Philadelphia just for the occasion. When she changed planes in Dallas and got on Southwest for the hop to Midland, she was seated next to none other than Mr. Foote himself.

We are blessed to have the opportunity to see such luminaries in a venue that is so personal.

Jeff said...

You're absolutely right! Shelby Foote was another high point of the series for me, as well. His delivery, his demeanor made for perfect storytelling ... and what wonderful tales he had to tel1! Of the many experts who participated in Ken Burns' "Civil Wat" series on PBS, I think Foote was - by far - the best.

He was also a master at working the crowd, leading them one way, then turning them about to reach the true destination of his talk. He demonstrated that ability that night at the Chap Center.

I'm thinking particularly of the Confederate flag story, how a number of people in the audience chuckled knowingly when he recalled the image ('they looked like trash') of the young Yankees coming south during the Civil Rights era, and how that chuckling ceased by the time he reached the end of the story, and told us all the tragic consequences, when 'we' sic'd 'our' trash after 'their' trash.

A poignant tale from a master storyteller ... and another evening to be thankful for the contributions of the Davidson Lecture supporters.

Pancho said...

I went to High School with and have been friends since with Steve Davidson, whose family funds the series. Especially nice and caring folks.

Eric said...

I'm looking forward to Ben Stein's appearance later this year. I suspect that one might be standing room only.

Sharon Ferguson said...

I remember seeing Richard Leakey way back in 1987 at a lecture given at a college in San Antonio (I think Incarnate Word). You are right : he was FUN! I got front row seats with the Witte Museum director and we had a blast.

I miss those days...sans the exboyfriend.