On September 16, 2022, the fourth episode of Lesley Israel's podcast, Work That Matters, was released. Like the previous three installments, Lesley fielded numerous questions, managing to make it informative and entertaining at the same time. This was an especially tall order this time around, too, because for the first time in the show's short history, Lesley Israel was venturing outside of the usual framework (politics, current events) so she could talk about her favorite topic of all. Read on to find out more!
Enjoy episode four of the celebrated Work That Matters podcast directly below. This particular installment focuses on family, which happens to be the work that matters most to our host, Lesley Israel. The podcast can also be enjoyed as part of a written article appearing on this page (albeit in a slightly truncated, but no less fascinating version). Both podcast and news feature have already begun to draw in significant audience interest all over the world -- nothing new for Work That Matters!
Esteemed political consultant and international democracy advocate, Lesley Israel, unveils the highly anticipated fourth installment of her acclaimed podcast series, Work That Matters, focusing on family matters first.
Lesley Israel is the first person to say that family comes first. Throughout her well-documented career as a political consultant and international democracy advocate, she always made time for her husband and two sons. You could say her main job was wife and mother. That is a pretty remarkable feat considering all that Lesley Israel has accomplished in her life, outside of her family.
Lesley Israel's stock in trade is politics and she knows that world like few others. Not only was it quite literally the name of her renowned consultancy (Politics, Inc.), it is also something that was central to her life's work even as a young woman. By 1967, she was already serving as director of media advance for Hubert Humphrey's 'Humphrey for President' campaign. From there, she landed several other leading roles in many key campaigns of the 1970s, while filling important roles elsewhere. Named one of Washington's Most Powerful Women by Washingtonian Magazine in 1990, Lesley Israel sealed her reputation as a D.C. force to be reckoned with early on. In 2016, Lesley enjoyed the career capstone achievement of being appointed to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad by President Barack Obama himself. Clearly, by any yardstick, hers was an impressive career.
But what about when the spotlight turned off and Lesley went home at the end of each day? Returning to Fred and the boys was what she worked for, what she lived for. And those were her favorite moments of all.
"Building one's career is important, especially for young women today," explains Ms. Israel. "But you must remember that jobs come and go... you only have one family. Don't get too focused on one thing and not the other. Keep a healthy work-life balance, but always keep family first."
Lesley Israel's family knows exactly where they stand with her at all times; they all mean the world to each other. Her support and love for her husband, children, and now grandchildren, is boundless and for Lesley it's more significant and rewarding than anything else. Like any loving grandma, Lesley lights up whenever she speaks about her grandkids, but how many of us can say that our grandma helped implement democracy in post-Soviet Eastern Europe?
The answer is, not many!
We caught up with Lesley Israel for the fourth episode of her wonderful, new podcast, Work That Matters. Rather than talking politics, war and current events, this time we turned the focus on family—and Lesley had a lot to share. During a brisk twenty minutes, we covered marriage, kids, grandkids, good times, not-so-good times and, on more than one occasion, Gene Kelly.
Check out the full interview below.
TSR News Group: You married Fred Israel in 1960, and gave birth to Herman Allen. That was in 1961. And he was known as "Hal", of course. Two years later, you had Sanford Lawrence, better known…
Lesley Israel: Actually, 11 months later. My grandmother was wrong - you can get pregnant when you're nursing.
TSR News Group: [laughing] So, you had Sanford Lawrence 11 months later, and he's better known as "Sandy". Hal married Donna, Sandy married Jennifer. Sandy and Jennifer had three children: Jason, Jessica and Kaitlyn, or Jake, Jessie and Katie for short. Hal and Donna had two children: Evan and Ryan. And tragically, Ryan did not get to meet his dad in the flesh, because as we discussed in the last episode, Hal passed away some years ago.
Lesley Israel: He passed away before Ryan was born. It's a shame because neither boy knew their father. One was two years old, and the other one was born after he was dead.
TSR News Group: Before Fred Israel, the love of your life was Gene Kelly. There must be a good story behind this one, so let's hear it.
Lesley Israel: Well, my father was a journalist, and amongst his papers he had the Washington Bureau of Variety, which is this show business newspaper. There was a party at the Motion Picture Association of America, which was in Washington, and they were showing—I don't know whether it was Singin' in the Rain or not, but it was one of Gene Kelly's movies. And I was 10 or 12, but my parents took me to it, Gene Kelly hugged me, and I fell in love with him! First man I ever truly loved. He had forgotten 10 minutes later, but I remember it still, 70 year later.
TSR News Group: It lasted your whole life. That's amazing. Now, Mr. Kelly aside, the next—and true—love of your life was Fred Israel. You've mentioned him a lot in past episodes of this podcast, but now, let's hear about who he really is. Who is Fred? What did he do for a living? He must be one special guy to woo you away from Gene. [laughs]
Lesley Israel: He's a very special guy. He's a lawyer. When I married him, he had been a practicing government contract marketing consultant to clients, and then he went to law school when he was 31, I think, and got his law degree, and just transferred all his clients [to government contract law]. My uncle, who had a big law firm and ultimately became president of the American Bar Association, said, "Well, Fred, when he graduates, he should come into my firm in Philadelphia." And Fred said, "No, I've got my clients." He transferred them from government marketing clients to government contract law clients. I think the real reason that I fell in love with Fred was that he was smarter than I was. He was the smartest man I knew. He was always smart, he was always entertaining, he was never boring. And of course, I thought he was sexy.
TSR News Group: [laughing] That's an important part of it.
Lesley Israel: And his parents were both immigrants to this country. They had the same background. They actually came from the same village in what was then the Soviet Union. I guess they might have known one another, but they hooked up here in the United States and got married.
TSR News Group: That's interesting. And you said he was the smartest person you knew. He would have to be pretty darn smart in order to make that pivot from marketing consulting to law, and maintain all of his clients in the process.
Lesley Israel: Oh, and he did.
TSR News Group: Amazing. That's so great. I love to hear stories like that. Now, you've said on this show before that you were raised by Republican journalist parents. Can you tell me a little bit about your own upbringing, and what that was like? Did it influence your own career path or your own experience as a family woman?
Lesley Israel: Oh, yeah. I grew up in Washington. I went all through public school. At the end of my junior year when the Brown [v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483] decision came down we discovered that Washington, the US capital, had a legally segregated school system. They couldn't integrate it all by September, so I went through 12 years of the segregated public school system before I went to college. But my parents were very, very interesting people. They were loving parents. Because they were journalists, they lived interesting lives. Their lives were more than just getting up and going to the store every morning. They were very interesting people, and they were fun. They were smart. I liked them. And my father, thank God, walked me down the aisle. He had a second heart attack four months after Fred and I married. In those days there were no bypasses, stents, pacemakers. And he died. So, my kids never knew him, and Fred never really got to know him.
TSR News Group: At least he was able to walk you down the aisle.
Lesley Israel: Yeah, but then my mother lived to be 93, and had a very exciting career after she left journalism, because the government has the National Endowment for the Arts, and Nancy Hanks was appointed the first chairman and mother was the press secretary. So, we had a very glamorous life. I had grown up with Variety, so I knew a lot about show business. Fred probably remembers the first time he took me to the National Theater. There was no Kennedy Center then. And the manager, we walked in and he said, "Lesley, I didn't know you were coming tonight! Where are you sitting?" And we had balcony seats. He was like, "You can't sit there!" He put us in the house seats. Fred was fascinating, and still is. I've never regretted it.
TSR News Group: Now, fast forward later in life. When you were stationed in places like Bosnia for extended periods, you said that your family did not come with you. So, how long were you away from them at a time?
Lesley Israel: Well, there was only one point where I was away for a long time, and that was my first time in Bosnia, and I was there for 4-5 months. Because I was involved in democracy, I was helping organize the first elections, writing their election laws and organizing it, and then I would go back afterwards and observe elections. I did elections all over the world, and then eventually, because the American government did mostly Eastern Europe and Central Asia, I went primarily to the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe.
TSR News Group: You've said that the best years of your life were the early years with Fred and the kids. Can you tell me a little bit about what made those days special?
Lesley Israel: Well, in those days when the kids were small, we were all stay-at-home moms. I went to cooking school when they were at school and then I went into journalism, but I had been in politics all my life, and I was working with a consulting firm, and within the firm I opened my own political consulting firm. We represented labor unions, and some would back one candidate and some another. So, I started a separate corporate firm so I wasn't competing with someone my clients might not approve of.
TSR News Group: That makes sense. Let's pivot and talk about your youth again for a moment. You've said that your family vacations were usually in Chesapeake Bay.
Lesley Israel: It was Atlantic City. My mother was from Philadelphia, and we spent a lot of time in New Jersey and the beach, that kind of thing. And of course, because there was no air conditioning and there was polio, I spent my summers at camp in Maine.
TSR News Group: And you mentioned that later on you had sailing vacations. You guys did a lot of sailing?
Lesley Israel: That's after I married Fred. At some point we bought a boat, and then went to sailing school. And we loved it! The first time I was overseas and we chartered a boat, I was in shock because a lot of the rules are different. In the United States it's red right returning, and in these overseas places it was red left returning. So, I learned some different things. But I loved it.
TSR News Group: That sounds amazing. Your sons, Sandy and Hal, were they very different from one another, personality-wise, as kids?
Lesley Israel: Well, they were different in one special way. Hal was ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] before that was a diagnosis. These were the kids who couldn't shut up and sit down! Let me give you the bottom line. When he graduated from Yale Law School, Fred said, "You're probably the only Yale graduate who never finished high school." And Hal said, "Pop, as you recall, I never finished junior high school." But, we had good friends in Georgetown, which is where Fred went to law school, and they said, "We can't admit him, but we'll let him take summer courses." He had taken the GEDs and all that stuff, and he got straight As. They said, "We still can't admit him, but we'll let him take first semester courses." And he still got straight As. So, they admitted him with retroactive credit, and when he graduated from Georgetown, they gave five medals of honor to graduating seniors, and he got two of them. Then he went to Yale Law. My parents had both gone to Penn, and my uncle was a lawyer, but this is what he wanted, and it turned out very well. And when Hal died, it was painless, but an accident.
TSR News Group: Yes. In the water, in the hot tub.
Lesley Israel: Yeah, in the hot tub. All he had to do was lift his head. But he had a seizure, because it was the old days, and he just drowned in his hot tub.
TSR News Group: Tragic. Now, your grandkids, Evan, Ryan, Jason, Jessie and Katie, do they share a lot of characteristics with their respective dads? By the way, now is your big chance to brag about them, and no one can say a word. So, make the most of it, granny!
Lesley Israel: [laughing] Jake, Katie, Jessica, Evan and Ryan and they are all fabulous. Everybody is now in college or graduate school. They all lead perfectly normal, healthy lives, doing well. We'll see what happens. Nobody's married yet, I don't have "greats", but we'll see.
TSR News Group: You are incredibly active in the Jewish community. You've traveled the world. Your last name is Israel. I'm sorry, but I have to ask…
Lesley Israel: Any time I go to Israel, they look at me and say, "Really?!"
TSR News Group: [laughing] You're like the queen of Israel. That was going to be my question. So, you've been to Israel. How many times have you gone, and what was that like?
Lesley Israel: Many times. I did all this stuff all over the world, the democracy stuff.
TSR News Group: So, when you were in Israel, was it business or pleasure, or both?
Lesley Israel: Both. I was involved in Jewish organizations and I had board meetings. Primarily the Anti-Defamation League. We had a lot of meetings in Israel.
TSR News Group: And what do you think about the state of Israel today? What are your feelings?
Lesley Israel: I think it's pretty good. It's a strong state. There are a lot of issues, of course. The Palestinians... the Israelis don't have a problem- mostly they're fine, but there's still obviously some discrepancies there. But it's a very democratic country, and I'm proud of it.
TSR News Group: Good. That's great. Now, for the personality power round, to end the interview. We've never done this on the show before, but I'm going to rapidly fire some preference choices at you, and I want you to answer one or the other without giving it too much thought. Are you ready?
Lesley Israel: M-hm.
TSR News Group: Okay. Favorite meal?
Lesley Israel: I like almost everything, provided there are no capers. I prefer a hamburger to a steak, and I like chicken and I like fish.
TSR News Group: I'm not a caper fan either, by the way.
Lesley Israel: I like a lot of international foods. We love to go to the Indian or Mexican restaurants.
TSR News Group: Favorite song?
Lesley Israel: Singin' in the Rain, maybe, because I fell in love with Gene Kelly.
TSR News Group: I had a feeling you were going to say that one. Would that be the answer for favorite movie too?
Lesley Israel: Probably. I don't know that I have a favorite movie, because I saw everything back in the day. That was the world I grew up in.
TSR News Group: What is your favorite color?
Lesley Israel: Blue. I don't know that I really have a favorite color. That's what popped into my head.
TSR News Group: Sailing or skiing?
Lesley Israel: Sailing.
TSR News Group: Bill Clinton or Barack Obama?
Lesley Israel: I'm a big Democrat, so I like them both.
TSR News Group: Bush 41 or Bush 43?
Lesley Israel: They were both okay presidents. Not my party, not my place on the issues, but they were decent presidents. They were honest, like I've said.
TSR News Group: The best compliment that a person can give Lesley Israel would be what?
Lesley Israel: "You're smart."
TSR News Group: Are you calling me that? I'm just kidding. [laughing] You are smart.
Lesley Israel: [laughing] I'd like them to be able to say, "Oh, you're so skinny!" But, I'm not.
TSR News Group: Glass half-empty or glass half-full?
Lesley Israel: I don't know. That's an expression. I'd say glass half-full, because that's optimistic.
* * *
For additional information about Lesley Israel and the Work That Matters podcast, please visit her official website by clicking here.
If you'd like to check out past Work That Matters articles one, two and three, please click on the preceding link of your choice.