Anderson, Parsons support Chautauqua through Scholar in Residence


Ed Anderson and Joan Parsons pose on their porch at the Keystone. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer

From their porch at the Keystone, Ed Anderson and Joan Parsons can look down to the street below them where Anderson’s children, and now their grandchildren, learned to ride their bicycles, and across to the trees that Anderson, as a birder, studies with a careful eye.

Chautauqua is as much a part of Anderson and Parsons’ lives as they are a part of the Institution; this is their second season sponsoring the Scholar in Residence program, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday.

The Scholar in Residence program runs annually for members of the Bestor Society, a group of donors who make an annual gift of $3,500 or more to the Chautauqua Fund. The program extends the stay of a selected morning lecturer, who runs a three- to five-day seminar, complete with readings, at Smith Wilkes Hall.

David Gergen, the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School who gave a lecture at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater, was the Scholar in Residence for 2011.

Christopher Gergen, David Gergen’s son and a founding partner of a leadership company called New Mountain Ventures, presented along with his father during the Scholar in Residence program.

“The concept is to bring in someone from the lecture series who can speak in conjunction with the week’s theme and then can spend from 8:30 to 10:15 a.m. four or five days in a week going into the subjects in depth with the several hundred people who attend. It has been a wildly successful program,” Anderson said. “We quickly became aware that Christopher and David Gergen were potentially available, and we thought that would be spectacular.”

Edith Everett and her late husband, Henry, started the SIR program. Edith Everett suggested that Anderson and Parsons would be particularly suitable for the sponsorship.

“Edith said, ‘Hey Tom (Becker), why don’t you talk to Ed and Joan? I think they might be interested in sponsoring,’ and Tom said, ‘OK,’ and here we are,” Anderson said.

Anderson and Parsons both enjoyed attending the SIR series but find their current level of involvement even more rewarding.

“Well, I tell you, the rewards of sponsoring this program are the people who come up and say, ‘This has been a fabulous program and thank you so much for it,” and so you know, you feel good about it,” Ed said. “People leave and say, ‘Wow, I never knew about that,’ or, ‘Can you believe what he just said?’ That’s the joy of learning.”

For years, Anderson worked for an investment management firm in New York City, while Parsons worked at Education Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., where the two first met. They now live in La Jolla, Calif.

Anderson also is well versed in behavioral psychology; along with his son, he created Headspring, an online reading program rooted in behavioral psychology.

Anderson and Parsons heard about Chautauqua through Anderson’s college roommate at the University of Chicago, the late Dick Bechtolt. Their first visit to Chautauqua was in 1972.

“Chautauqua was the first place he took me when we were dating,” Parsons said.

While Anderson claimed he comes to Chautauqua for a chance to sit and read, he and Parsons are quite active around the grounds. They are particularly fond of the cultural and artistic programming and are avid supporters of the dance program.

“We are nuts about ballet,” Anderson said.

In 1988, they both were part of Chautauqua’s famous delegation to the former Soviet Union. Usually, they arrive at Chautauqua several weeks before the start of the season to attend the Road Scholar foreign affairs meetings in the Athenaeum Hotel.

Anderson and Parsons said they appreciate Chautauqua specifically because of its intellectually challenging atmosphere, which they chose to perpetuate by sponsoring the SIR program. Anderson, especially, said he relates the program back to his own education at the University of Chicago, which was rooted in constructive dialogue. He hopes that his and Parsons’ sponsorship of the SIR series helps share those pedagogical values with the community.

Anderson and Parsons said they value the role Chautauqua plays in their lives and decided to give so that others can experience the Institution in the future.

“I’m copying other people who have given to Chautauqua,” Anderson said. “Chautauqua wouldn’t be what it is without people saying, ‘This was an important part of my lives, and I want to keep it going. It’s based on the common good.”

The concern for the common good is a thread throughout Anderson and Parsons’ lives, as well as the theme for this week, and they help sustain it through their gifts to Chautauqua.