Lowcountry native brings world- renowned speakers for series

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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

National Geographic magazine photographer Paul Nicklen.

Navy SEAL Team Six leader Robert O'Neill.

This is the lineup of experts for the inaugural season of the Lowcountry Speaker Series, beginning in January 2020.

One by one for four consecutive months, the aforementioned experts will come to the stage of the Leamington Grand Ballroom at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort and Spa.

The series is the brainchild of James Lamar, who currently lives in Westfield, N.J., but was born in Charleston and has a family home in Bluffton. His path to the series' inaugural season is as varied as the speakers he has and those he plans to schedule in the future.

"I live in the New York City area right now, and I have access to these types of speakers all the time, but I really believe, based on my experience, that there are large areas of the country with a population that wants to stay in touch and hear information straight from the expert, especially in the live forum," Lamar said. "A lot of times people are basing their opinion on a tweet. I want people to get their opinions from people who are experts in the field without getting someone else's filter."

Lamar attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs but then chose to transfer via a cross-service swap and flew jets for the U.S. Navy.

After leaving the service in 2003, he earned an MBA from Indiana University and went to Wall Street, where he is a portfolio manager in an investment firm.

In the course of his travels and plans, at one point Lamar considered buying the MPSF Speaker Series, which belonged to a family friend. It is the largest bureau of its type in the country, Lamar said, covering the San Francisco Bay area and bringing in equally high-level speakers eight months of the year.

After what he called "a lot of due diligence," Lamar realized that it wasn't the business he wanted so much as "the lifelong learning and listening to people in a live series. You have a chance to change opinions when you hear people live."

He also realized he didn't want to live in San Francisco and came to the conclusion that eventually he would like to move full time to Bluffton.

"I thought, let's do some work and see if there might be enough interest and support on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort County to support a speaker series like the one in the Bay," he said. So far, he added, the idea seems to be a success with initial ticket sales.

Lamar arranged for the four speakers through other speakers bureaus around the country and is paying for the whole program himself.

"I'm really into this idea of lifelong learning and making sure people are given the right information, and are informed and entertained," he said.

First on the list, scheduled for Jan. 14, 2020, is Rice, who served as the 66th U. S. Secretary of State, the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush. She is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of political science at Stanford University.

Since 2001, Gupta has reported health and medical news for all of CNN's shows domestically, internationally and digitally. His medical training, public policy experience and literary style have informed his reporting and made his dispatches some of the most distinctive on television. He is on the schedule for Feb. 11.

Next up, on March 10, is Nicklen, a Canadian photographer, filmmaker and marine biologist who has documented the beauty and the plight of the planet for more than 20 years. His work delivers audiences to an underwater realm witnessed by few.

Rounding out the series on April 7 is O'Neill, who is raising awareness about veterans' issues and supporting veterans through philanthropy and entrepreneurship. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir "The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama bin Laden" and "My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior." He deployed more than a dozen times and held combat leadership roles in more than 400 combat missions in four different theaters of war.

"I'm trying to bring the kind of experience to the Lowcountry where people could sit in a room with these experts and listen to what they have to say," Lamar said. "There's a possibility that some of it may be controversial and we're not trying to shy away from that. We just want to give people a chance to listen and form their own opinions."

For each lecture in the speaker schedule, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the program starts at 7:30 p.m.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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