Success Stories: Best Foot Forward
Richard and Doris Sugarman
Talking to Richard and Doris Sugarman—founders of Hartford’s The Connecticut Forum, now celebrating its 20th season—about their favorite forum programs of the past is like asking a couple of 10-year-olds to discuss their favorite Christmas presents.
“The one I loved was last season’s ‘The Glorious, Mysterious Brain,’ with autism advocate Temple Grandin,” says Doris. “Especially as so many of us have personal stories concerning autism and Alzheimer’s, and there are so many new research discoveries.”
Richard fondly recalls 2004’s “Behind the Scenes with the Simpsons,” featuring cast members Yeardley Smith and Harry Shearer. “To see people enjoying something together that they had previously only enjoyed in front of their TVs was fantastic,” he says.
Such shared experiences were the goal of the forum from the beginning. The Sugarmans, who moved to Connecticut from Richmond, Va., in 1989, invented the idea as a way to be involved in and helpful to their new community, particularly to aid Hartford economically during what was then a tough recession.
After consulting with their friends and neighbors (as well as roughly 30 businesses) in the city, they realized, says Richard, “that we were all curious about a number of issues and that there were many fascinating people in all walks of life we didn’t get to hear from enough. We wanted to hear from them in unscripted, spontaneous, civil conversation, not predictable, dull speeches.”
The inaugural Connecticut Forum event in October 1992—“The Changing Political Landscape”—lit up election year with a panel including William Proxmire and then Democratic National Committee Chair Ron Brown. Ever since, thanks to the ongoing support of its community/corporate consultants, the forum has continued to present A-list guests—Ralph Nader, Bill Cosby, Ann Coulter, Bill Moyers, Elie Wiesel—in discussions on topics from war, creativity and God to AIDS and race relations. An audience of 3,000 packs The Bushnell for nearly every panel.
On March 16, the forum hosts its biggest event yet: an evening with former President Bill Clinton. “Who’s more of a rock star?” asks Doris. One coveted “get” who’s eluded them thus far: “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart. “It will happen,” Richard says.