Jane Pauley, Ronan Tynan and Mae Carol Jemison will speak in Chesapeake

by Rob Lauer

One year ago, a small group of twelve Chesapeake citizens from across the city gathered to consider one question. In a world of diverse opinions, at a time when public discussions are often bitterly divisive, what does it take to bring a community together? 

Dr. Becky Adams, a career educator and Chesapeake's 2016 First Citizen, was at that meeting. "We wanted to create a space where people could experience community together- despite their political differences," she recalls. "We wanted to explore ways in which we could expand the cultural offerings in our city."

This dedicated group decided to form a non-profit organization- The Chesapeake Forum- which would bring high-quality speakers to Chesapeake to speak on a wide range of topics. Those speakers would include scientists, artists, historians, judges, financiers, humorists, philosophers, journalists, and leaders from all fields.  At the same time, when selecting speakers, the Forum would neither engage in promoting politicians, positions, candidates, or parties.

This last point is crucial for Becky, who currently serves as the Forum's president. "We want the Chesapeake Forum to be completely non-partisan," she insists. "We are offering the citizens of Chesapeake opportunities to hear people from all walks of life speak."

A volunteer board of directors, composed of 27 citizens from across the city, serves as The Chesapeake Forum's governing body. Finding a venue for the speakers was one of the first challenges that this board faced.

"The Chesapeake Conference Center seemed like the natural choice," Becky recounts. "From the very beginning, they stepped up to the plate. In fact, when we approached them, they told us that they had been hoping someone in the area would do something like this. And so, this beautiful conference center will be our home venue."

Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Jane Pauley

With a venue selected, the Chesapeake Forum began choosing its first season of guest speakers.

 "Our goal is to bring diverse people here who reflect our community values," Forum Vice-President Glenn Koonce explains. "We want to bring the community together- not pull it apart. The three people that we're bringing here during our first season are each unique. They've faced challenges in their careers and in their personal lives have the power to cut across all differences and divisions. I think once people see who we are bringing in as speakers, they will be impressed and want to support us."

On January 29, the Chesapeake Forum's first speaker, Jane Pauley, will take the podium.

One of broadcasting's most respected journalists, Pauley is the host of CBS Sunday Morning. Pauley began her network career as co-host of The Today Show for 13 years. She anchored Dateline NBC for more than a decade and hosted her own daytime program, The Jane Pauley Show.  A winner of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and multiple Emmys, she is a member of the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame. A longtime advocate in children's health and education, she is also a highly regarded spokesperson in mental health.

 Dr. Mae Carol Jemison will speak on March 3. Dr. Jemison broke more than the sound barrier in 1992 when she climbed aboard the space shuttle Endeavour and became the first woman of color to travel into space.  She was also NASA's first Science Mission Specialist performing experiments in material science, life science, and human adaptation to weightlessness.  Dr. Jemison is a highly sought-after speaker on issues of health care, social responsibility, technology, education, STEM, and motivation.

"I think the diversity of our speakers
and our desire to bring people together
from across the community
will make The Chesapeake Forum
a great success."

- Glenn Koonce

Ronan Tynan, who gained international fame as a member of The Irish Tenors, will speak on May 14. Often described as a modern-day "Renaissance Man," Tynan has faced numerous challenges throughout his life but has persevered with enormous passion and determination.

The big Irishman has a special relationship with American audiences now. "The thing I love about America is that there are so many people who want you to do well," he says. "They will you to do well. They encourage you, and they rejoice in your success. That's a great virtue. I think Americans are fantastic people, amazing."

Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan

Tickets to all three speakers are available through The Chesapeake Forum's subscription ticket program.

"Information on buying a subscription can be found on our website or by calling us directly," Becky explains. "A season subscription would also make a wonderful Christmas gift. For one price, you can give a loved one three delightful evenings out, from January through May."

 "Until January 21, we're also offering a charter membership," Becky adds. "For $1,000, people  will be placed on our charter members list for perpetuity. They will also receive four tickets to each of this year's events, and they can attend our sponsor's receptions where they will meet the speakers and have their picture taken with them by Hobbs Studio."

Community involvement is also very important to the Forum. Becky encourages anyone interested in volunteering to call the Forum or visit its website.

"We also want those who attend these events to make suggestions for future topics and speakers," Becky adds, "We'll have a page on our website where they can do that. We really want the community to feel a part of the decision making. There are a lot of interesting people out there- and some of the most fascinating of them are not necessarily well-known. So, getting input from the public will be very helpful."

Every member of the Forum's board of directors  is pleased and excited by the roster of speakers scheduled for the coming year.

"I think the diversity of our speakers and our desire to bring people together from across the community will make The Chesapeake Forum a great success," Glenn says with a smile.

Looking to the future, Becky adds, "We hope that in 50 years, people will say, "I'm so glad those folks started this back in 2019.'"

Astronaut Mae Carol Jemison.

Chesapeake Forum

P.O. Box 15864
Chesapeake, VA 23328

(757) 346-9163