Friday, July 26, 2013

In Memory of a Former Leader

I was on Facebook yesterday, scrolling through the day’s postings, when I noticed an item about a cyclist who had suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a bicycle race, in the first leg of the 3-day Courage Classic near Vail, CO. I thought to myself, “what a shame,” but as more and more musicians that I knew to be local “shared” this story, it became clear that this was not only someone I knew, but someone who meant a lot to the Knoxville Symphony.

William “Rick” Lester was the KSO’s General Manager in the mid-90's, following Connie Harrison’s and preceding Mark Hanson’s tenure. As a part-time GM, splitting his time among the KSO and several other consultancies, he turned around a financially foundering KSO with bottom-line-based strategies that weren’t always popular due to their austerity. The rapidly evolving music scene in Knoxville and the rising tide of alternative music sources (the internet) demanded new methods for selling the KSO’s product, and Rick was not afraid to make bold changes. His conservative leadership was one link in the chain that has kept the KSO in business while many other orchestras faltered or went completely under.

Here is a link to the story on the (Colorado Springs) Gazette’s online obituaries. For a more in-depth look at KSO events under Lester’s watch, here is a link to a 1997 Weekly Wire online newsletter. It is unfortunate that some will focus on the way he died, losing track of the true tragedy of his passing. We in Knoxville remember and mourn, and are thankful for his work here.

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