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Culture Chat

Ten years of bringing big names to the creek.


Courtesy of the Lesher Speaker Series

Since Steve Lesher founded the Lesher Speaker Series in 2004, Walnut Creek has played host to an impressive list of internationally renowned speakers, from Jay Leno to Maya Angelou. As the series kicks off its 10th season, we asked Lesher to share some backstage stories, and the speaker he’d most like to book.


Most stressful: Laura Bush

Lesher was thrilled with former First Lady Laura Bush’s talk in 2011—but also relieved to get through it. He was one of few people at the center who knew there were teams of government snipers in tactical positions.

“It was intense: The Secret Service asked me where the nearest shower was backstage, in case someone tossed chemicals at her,” Lesher recalls. “I said, ‘I’m not sure…’ and they said, ‘That’s OK,’ and had someone build a portable shower, just in case.”

Most surreal: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin discussed her acclaimed books about Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, but her appearance in 2008 included a backstage meeting with a presidential impostor.

“There was a play about Richard Nixon in another theater that night,” says Lesher. “The actor playing Nixon was in costume, pacing around backstage. I saw Goodwin looking at him, thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I explained the coincidence and assured her we were not having all the presidents show up for her talk.”


Dream speaker: Mikhail Gorbachev

“Not only was he an important world leader during an incredible historical period, but he changed so much as a person and leader while he was in power,” says Lesher. “We seem to want our leaders to be rigid and unchanging these days, so I think Gorbachev’s perspective would be fascinating to include in the series.”


For info on Newsmakers, including day-of tickets, go to lesherspeakerseries.org.


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