Teri Orr: Genuinely exclusive clubs
June 12, 2015
The other night at Rotary Park, a bunch of Park City guys, who had just turned 70, had a little bash with about 100 friends in attendance. There was food and beverages and much hugging among folks hadn’t seen each other in a while. There was laughter… lots of laughter. And there was a double-toast to the birthday boys — one from former Mayor Dana Williams and the other from former Mayor Brad Olch. And current Mayor Jack Thomas was in attendance. I loved seeing all those guys, who have loved and do love Park City so much, together in one place.
And all three are within a decade of each other. Three living mayors of one small town. Each who has put, or in the case of Jack, will put, their own stamp on the office and community. They are the only living three guys in this town who know exactly how it feels to shoulder the responsibilities of that office.
I remembered a story I heard years ago, maybe on NPR, about all five of the living presidents being at some event together and how rare that was. And maybe it was Clinton who spoke about it, perhaps Carter, but one of them said to the press — it was the most exclusive club in the world. And one built on a unique kind of privilege and understanding of a shared home (for a few years) and rarified experiences. Unstated was the responsibility of trying to keep the whole world in balance.
Not too many years ago I heard of yet another club with just a handful of folks and it was founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela and named simply, The Elders. These folks were living former world leaders who no longer had any political responsibilities or direct influence. They were formed to address world issues with wisdom and kindness and fierce determination to make their experience on the world stage count for something more than being a former head of state.
The Elders are currently working on inequality issues for women and girls, the political climate needed for reform and peace-building in Myanmar and on issues related to climate change — which former president of Ireland Mary Robinson (one of The Elders) declared the human rights issue of our time.
Recently, at the TEDWomen conference in Monterey, I heard 90-year-old Jimmy Carter (one of The Elders ) speak — without notes — standing straight at the podium and spout off statistics about women’s (and girls’) inequality around the word. He said, "The number one abuse of human rights on Earth is the mistreatment of women and girls."
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And it all got me to thinking about a friend currently working in City Hall who, a few years ago, said he wished those folks who had been so involved in Park City back in the ’80s and ’90s would form some kind of group that emerging leaders of today’s community could go to and ask questions of. And maybe those folks could also show up to meetings and volunteer for committees.
It is a good/curious idea. There is a wealth of knowledge here about this very community from a group of folks who all came here from someplace else. And truth be told, it was to start over from some part of our lives having failed or at least failed to launch. This was a town with tired leadership and failing businesses and falling-down buildings. It was just what a bunch of young, fearless hippie-spirited people saw as fertile ground. Unlike the fixed communities many of us had come from. We ran for office and moved City Hall. And built schools and churches. Saved aging buildings and found new uses for them. Started businesses and raised families. We embraced the fledging US Film and Video Festival, which nearly died until it got saved by Robert Redford and become the Sundance Festival. We spent years, a decade really, thinking we, a town of less of 5,000 people then, could host the Winter Olympics. And we worked up a couple of bids before the world trusted us (and Salt Lake City) with the honor. The land moat created around the city mostly in the ’90s was intentional and based on visions we had seen in other resort towns on various City Tours. And some creative politics.
And let’s not forget these are all folks who grew up in the ’60s. Rebellion is in our blood. So is social justice. And equality issues of all stripes. And experimenting with life styles and life. We are active — in the best physical shape of any generation before us. And we have combined talents and resources to share.
What if a group of Park City Elders focused on fair-housing issues? Or access to lifelong education for all our citizens? Or infusing humor in stuffy meetings? Or reminding serious, single-track, young parents to be outrageous often with their children? Or making certain all our workers are paid a living wage? We could figure out two or three topics and include folks who had served in leadership positions to use that vast knowledge to continue to make our little corner of the world a better place.
It might be ambitious, but you know that never stopped us before. Just a little something to ponder this Sunday in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.