Mark Stansberry is an accomplished entrepreneur, oil and gas executive, award-winning film and music producer, author and talk show host. He is an international negotiator, a corporate advisor to several boards and c-suites, and has served as an adjunct professor and and advisory board member for several academic institutions.
In this week’s episode of the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, Roger and Mark discuss how TFAS kickstarted his career, the volatility of the oil and gas industry, the power of mentorship, and how he became an Emmy award-winning producer.
The Liberty + Leadership Podcast is hosted by TFAS President Roger Ream and produced by kglobal. If you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni who are making a real impact in politics, public policy, government, business, philanthropy, law and the media. Today, I’m joined by Mark Stansberry, my classmate in the TFAS class of 1976. For his entire career, Mark has remained engaged in issues of energy, education and economic freedom. He served in a number of higher education leadership roles, including as an advisory board member, as chairman of a board of Regents and on multiple presidential search and selection committees. Perhaps most notably, Mark was recently inducted into the 2022 Oklahoma Movie Hall of Fame and is the co-founder of an Emmy Award winning production company. Mark, I’m looking forward to discussing your versatile and successful career and the ways courageous leadership has been present with you at every turn. Thank you for joining me today.
Mark Stansberry [00:01:06] Thanks, Roger. Thanks for this opportunity.
Roger Ream [00:01:08] Well, if you don’t mind, Mark, I’m going to take us both back a number of years. Boy, they have flown by, haven’t they? I guess we’re both getting old. But you’ve got the energy in more ways than one that keeps you going, like the Energizer Bunny. But back in 1976, we met on the campus of Georgetown University, where TFAS programs were housed at the time. We got immersed in some interesting classes and internship and a lot of activities with classmates from around the country. Tell me what you remember that summer and how it impacted you kind of at the time.
Mark Stansberry [00:01:49] Well, first of all, I gained so much from the institute. You know, I think of David R. Jones, who I got to meet and discuss through the years, not just at the institute. I think of Liv Dobriansky and how the ambassador Dobriansky, he provided us a lecture and several lectures and provided a book, USA and the Soviet Myth. And so starting my book collection and interest in building my book library through the years really started off with Lev Dobriansky. I think of the bicentennial that was going on that year. And so we got there early June and left the last late part of July of that year, 1976. And think of July 4th, the celebration. But along the way, every week there was some activities going on. There were some bands playing cultures from different countries. Each week a new country would come in for dancing and music and so forth. So it was really a festive summer. I had gone to the year before 1975 as an intern and spent about four months. It was 1975 and it was not that active. It was more of I got assigned research, answering letters, those kind of things. And it wound up that I worked for U.S. Senator Dewey Bartlett that year. And then in the fall, stayed on his staff and worked for U.S. Senator Dewey Bartlett, but was assigned to head up the Youth Conference, with U.S. Senator Bartlett and Belmont, and that went successfully. And so I asked both of them, I’m interested in being a White House intern. And so I applied for a White House internship for the summer of 1976 and it looked like I was heading that way. And then I get a call from Pam Powell, who said that as far as the program itself was going to be budget cut. Budget cuts, as far as the internship program. And so I was really sad, disappointed. But she said, well, there’s a program called the Institute on Comparative Political Economic Systems at Georgetown University. And she said, I will recommend you go to that if you’re interested. And so I got ahold, Senator Bartlett and asked him to put together recommendations. So I got a call from I think it’s David Jones and it was a full ride and a stipend which I needed because I wouldn’t have been able to go at all. And I think of the scholarships today that have helped so many students through the years and helped me get launched. And I’ll tell you what, I’m so glad, you know, when a door opens like the internship with the White House and it closes may be a disappointment. But look what’s happened since. I mean, through the years, I’ve benefited so much from being an intern, but also being part of the Fund for American Studies. It’s such a great program and I’ve gained so much from. That summer was just wonderful with the lectures, the student participation. I really gained in those few weeks really more than I did that whole year working on the staff of Senator Bartlett. And I did wind up being an intern at Senator Bartlett’s for the summer of ’76 as well.
Roger Ream [00:05:18] Well, I do recall you bring back a number of memories for me too, Mark. I remember Lev Dobriansky giving that lecture that summer and the message that stayed with me ever since. You know, this was during the height of the Cold War, 1976. And I remember his emphasis on the fact that the Soviet Union was not the same as Russia and Russia was a country, but the Soviet Union was a union of lots of countries, most part of it unwillingly. But he made very clear that his native Ukraine was an independent country and what needed its independence and how relevant that lesson is today for the world.
Mark Stansberry [00:06:02] No question and you know he helped because his foundation in all the lectures about liberty and freedom.
Roger Ream [00:06:10] And the captive nation.
Mark Stansberry [00:06:12] Oh, unbelievable. It really helped me. Guided me when I was in 1992. Several years later, I wound up going to Russia as part of an oil and gas delegation. And I would look back, reflect back, especially on the ambassadors works and think about what he said, not only the classs but through the years. I kept in touch with him all the way through beyond the time he was actually ambassador to the Bahamas years later. But I think of the efforts in Russia at the time in 1992 when I went over there was a year after the coup and I thought, wow, what I learned in the classroom and now what I’m applying now and learning now is unbelievable. So I really appreciate his time, but also everyone that’s contributed through the years. I think of you, Roger, in your leadership in the classroom. You were one of the top students and the leadership you’ve carried through the years for the Fund, you and Mary Kay and others that have led.
Roger Ream [00:07:13] Well thank you. You reminded us also of David Jones, who played a pivotal role in my life, too. I’d met him at Vanderbilt and he encouraged me to spend the summer in Washington at The Fund for American Studies. And were it not for that chance meeting of David there and his encouragement, I wouldn’t have met you and and our classmate, Mark Levin, and a number of other classmates that we’ve kept in touch with over the years. So he was the kind of guy who, you know, when you talk to him Mark, you felt like you were the most important person in the world because he treated everyone like that and was a great mentor.
Mark Stansberry [00:07:47] He was wonderful. He was a great mentor, I call him statesman, in a sense, because he really put people together and throughout the world he brought people together and so highly admired.
Roger Ream [00:08:02] If my memories correct I think you and I were in a group and maybe formed a group that went to see those fireworks on July 4th of 1976 and I thought of that last week. I had a lunch with a group of our students who are here this summer, you know, today’s 18, 19, 20 year olds. And I asked to go around the table and get highlights from the students of their summer so far. And the first student who spoke said going to the fireworks was my highlight. It was just incredible to watch the fireworks in the nation’s capital with the backdrop of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial. And that brought back memories of when we were on the mall doing that same thing in 1976.
Mark Stansberry [00:08:45] Well, you know, a few years from now, the 250th. And I hope to be up in D.C.. I hope. But we’ll get together some other friends and hope you’ll be up there with me.
Roger Ream [00:08:54] Yeah. I’ll look forward to that. I’ll put in my calendar today.
Mark Stansberry [00:08:59] That means we are getting old by then.
Roger Ream [00:09:02] Yeah. 50 years.
Mark Stansberry [00:09:03] Yeah, 50 years later.
Roger Ream [00:09:06] Well let me, touch on a little bit your career. You went back to Oklahoma, you were a student at Oklahoma Christian, which was a university that at that time at least was sending a lot of great students our way. I got a chance to see it a few years later and noticed they have an auditorium, I think it is called the Walter Judd Auditorium.
Mark Stansberry [00:09:28] Yes. I was ordered to meet him to be one of the founders of the fund. He was very engaged in a lot of universities outside of the Fund as well. But yes, he was such a leader that we were very fond of at Oklahoma Christian.
Roger Ream [00:09:45] Yeah, I fear that people don’t know much about him anymore, but he served as a medical missionary in China, a member of Congress for some 20 years, from Minneapolis, Saint Paul, great anti-communist and great friend of Taiwan, which is, of course, an issue in the news right now. And his biography was appropriately called Missionary of Freedom by Lee Edwards. So we were lucky to hear him that summer as well, emphasized that this is an experiment of liberty that we’re living in. And each generation has to determine whether that experiment will be successful. And I think you’ve certainly done your part. So talk about your career a little. I know you went back and were very involved in the energy business. Tell us about that aspect of your career.
Mark Stansberry [00:10:31] Well, mentors are a big part of my life and hopefully on mentoring others as well. And there was a gentleman that introduced me to Dewey Bartlett, U.S. Senator Bartlett and it was Cooper West. His name was Cooper West. He was in the oil and gas business, but he’s also involved in several things real estate development, insurance and other things, an entrepreneur. And I’d gone to him and I said, I’d like to be an intern in D.C. and he wound up giving me that opportunity through an introduction to Senator Bartlett. And so I wound up doing a lot of research with Senator Bartlett while I was there. In particular, one project I worked on was he was going to give a speech. Senator Bartlett was going to give a speech in Oslo, Norway, before OPEC. Well, first of all, I didn’t know much about OPEC. I sure didn’t know much about natural gas, even though I came from Elk City, which was a gas cap, natural gas capital of the world. Back when I was 13 years old, I was putting up decals that said that, that didn’t mean I knew much about oil and gas. And so I got interested because I also did some research on his speech to help him present a speech on OPEC. And there’s about four or five of us that helped on that. And it was just very intriguing. And it wound up, I gained from that. But also there was a particular bill that was coming up regarding natural gas. So I did research on that as well. So I took an interest in that. So a year after the institute, I was going to graduate from Oklahoma Christian. And so I got hold of Cooper West and and asked him, you know, I’d like to be looking at the oil gas business. Is that opportunity there? Are there opportunities there? And he mentioned he made a call. He’s helping me quite a bit through the years making calls. And he called a gentleman with El Paso Natural Gas Company, which was out of El Paso. And so they offered me a job through his recommendation, and I accepted. I was engaged at the time to Nancy and back in April of ’77 and by June 1st, I was supposed to be heading down, accept the job position with El Paso. I get a call about a few weeks after that from El Paso and Cooper was on the line and he said, You know, I really would like to have you work for me. He said, I really think that would be great. And of course, that was great for both Nancy and myself, because Elk City was my hometown. And so it was great to go back to Elk City. I was a land man. I got trained at the University of Texas at Arlington, also in title work and opportunities as far as exploration, you name it. He sent me off to school and it wound up, you know, petroleum landman for his company. And then a few years later, I started a company called More Stansberry Inc., which was almost a decade of looking for, you know, searching for exploration and so forth. And then that’s really the launch in the oil and gas sector. And in through that timeframe, doors would open and I had an opportunity to get involved, real estate development. And it was because of these doors opening that I looked through. And some, by the way, I will say the free enterprise is a big part of this as well for the Fund that I gained from the studies. And so entrepreneurship is a big deal. But you also have success and you have failure. I call it the good, bad and ugly, because anytime you’re entrepreneur, it’s not always going be rosy. But real estate development I got into banking and other opportunities along the way.
Roger Ream [00:14:22] I know from conversations with you and obviously from the news every day that you mentioned, the good, the bad and the ugly, I imagine in the oil business that you have success and failure based on decisions you make in your business, but then you have all these external factors that you have no control over. You mentioned OPEC earlier, government policy out of Washington. What one day might be the right decision based on circumstances very soon changes because some external forces manipulating the price of oil or natural gas. Has it been kind of an up and down career when it comes to your work in the energy industry?
Mark Stansberry [00:15:03] It really is. I mean, you have to be on top of things because, you know, it really comes down to supply and demand. But also, as you’ve seen today, there’s so many factors that are so complex. We have upstream, downstream as well as midstream that are involved in just the oil and gas sector. I’ve written a book years ago, American Needs Americans Energy, which fortunately was launched. The announcement was launched July 19th of 2012 at The Fund for American Studies. And ten years later, I’m coming out with a monograph that complements the book. Which is called America Needs America’s Energy and Its Natural Resources. So I’m highlighting the complexities that are involved with just what you’re asking right now is that it’s so complex that we’re looking at not just oil, not just natural gas, but the future of wind, solar, hydrogen, nuclear and so forth that are so important that we have the good energy mix. And B, look at the free market system and a free society. And that would help us so much more than some of the controlling regulations, less government intervention and really look at it from a standpoint of a free economic system.
Roger Ream [00:16:26] Yeah. It seems obvious if you do much research and as your books point out and as you can read and other sources as well, that fossil fuels are a key part of the American economic success. And we’re just not just talking about electricity and heating homes, we’re talking about our food supply. We’re talking about chemicals and plastics. They all depend on fossil fuels. And having cheap fossil fuels has really helped the American economy prosper and grow. And there seems to be a war on fossil fuels that is very dangerous. As you say, renewables have their place, but it’s a long process of bringing these other sources of energy being as cheap and even as clean as as fossil fuels are.
Mark Stansberry [00:17:10] That’s right. And I do see a future that’s going to be transitioning. Gray Frederickson, who’s a movie producer. He and I put together a film years ago called The Grand Energy Transition, which was transitioning from, you know, more from the oil and natural gas to a future of a hydrogen economy. And it was really interesting, Roger, our business partners on that or investment partners on that were Boone Pickens and Ted Turner and there’s several others that invested in this, but they were politically different.
Roger Ream [00:17:42] Two very different.
Mark Stansberry [00:17:42] Oh, yeah. Different sides.
Roger Ream [00:17:46] Different people.
Mark Stansberry [00:17:48] Oh, my goodness. But when it came to natural gas and the future of hydrogen and looking at opportunities, especially natural gas, at the time Ted was very supportive. In fact, I remember we filmed part of it at his home in Bozeman, Montana, outside of Bozeman.
Roger Ream [00:18:06] Is that Ted Turner’s?
Mark Stansberry [00:18:09] Yeah. And we had about a 45 minute time frame where we got this, just the two of us in his living room. And I asked him, you know, what the future looks like from energy and what’s his next? You know, he was in his seventies at the time. What’s his future look like? And he said, I really want to make a difference. I’m not through yet. I really want to make a difference. And I took that from him and then went to Boone Pickens office down to Dallas and film part of the film there, the Grand Energy Transition film there as well. And the same thing, I would ask questions and they would say, you know, there’s still things to do. There’s some opportunities not just for themselves, but for others. So I think that’s a reflection, really, of what the Fund’s about.
Roger Ream [00:18:52] Well, you touched on something there. So I’d like to pursue that for a minute. How in the world did you get into the movie business, Mark? That’s something a lot of us would like to be able to get into. But you you did it.
Mark Stansberry [00:19:04] Well, it’s interesting. I wound up going to a meeting. It was a Oklahoma City Chamber meeting and I was introduced to a gentleman named Gray Frederickson, who had produced The Godfather movies. Won Academy Award for Godfather II and Apocalypse Now, nominated for that movie. And he’s involved in The Outsiders, you name it. Francis Ford Coppola movies, nearly all of those movies he was part of. And so I got to be friends with him. And one day he came about a year or two later, he came to me with the opportunity to say, take it or leave it. I guess from my standpoint is, are you interested in being my partner? And I was going, Well, what’s involved? He wanted to start a production company. And I thought, all this sounds interesting, but I don’t know anything about movies, you know? So I went home and my excuse was I got to talk to Nancy. So I came home and talked to Nancy about it. She said, I like Gray. She said, I think you should check it out, see what it’s all about. And so I came back to him and I said, Gray, I’ll be your partner on one condition, that I’m your guest to the Academy Awards in 2002. This was 2000. And he said, Deal. So it winds up I’m a guest of Gray Frederickson of the Academy Awards of 2002, walking down the red carpet. I’d gotten started, signed a deal in September to be his business partner with a company called Graymark Productions. I came in with the idea and said, What are we going to call our company? I said, Your name’s Gray, my names Mark. Graymark. So we started Graymark Productions. We had one film, a documentary that won an Emmy Graymark did. And then we had five featured films and we’ve kept working on projects since then. I’ve been involved with about over 20 films and it winds up that we’re producing a film right now. I’m executive producer, he’s producer of a film and we have Greg Mellott, who’s a winning director. And it’s about Sherwood Forest, Top Secrets the title and it’s about 43-44 roughnecks that go to England during World War II. They wind up drilling for oil. England had found in Sherwood Forest about 300 barrels a day is about the max they could produce. They needed ingenuity from America. So we set through the contacts that Winston Churchill and others reached out to America in 1943. So wound up going to England with these 43 roughnecks and they wound up having to live in a monastery. It was very top secret. They drilled enough oil, Roger, up to 3000 barrels of oil per day, you know, in about a year and a half, about a hundred wells. And there’s footage of this project they worked on with British Petroleum that we got through the archives of British Petroleum to be part of the film. And I’m trying to keep a short story here, but it’s intriguing. All the efforts and the sacrifices roughnecks gave in order to drill these wells. And the oil, some of the oil, a good portion of the oil was used in D-Day. So it was really a big effort. And Barry Corbin, who’s been in about over 200 films, is a narrator with about 58-60 casting crew on sets locations here in Oklahoma. It should be coming out around hopefully sometime in August or September.
Roger Ream [00:22:27] And this is a documentary?
Mark Stansberry [00:22:29] It’s a documentary. Yes.
Roger Ream [00:22:32] It’s probably unlikely but are any of these roughnecks alive today?
Mark Stansberry [00:22:36] There are none alive. No. There’s family members who have been reaching out to us. And so we’ve told them definitely, you know, we want you be part of the the screening and those kind of things. So it’s really interesting. We didn’t realize how many family members there are. There’s a whole list I’m maintaining so that when it’s release they get to be part of it.
Roger Ream [00:22:55] Well, it makes you wonder how many other stories like that are out there, the things that we know nothing about. But this will be wonderful. I can’t wait to see it.
Mark Stansberry [00:23:02] Yes.
Roger Ream [00:23:03] You also, I know been very involved in higher education, served on the boards of a number of universities in Oklahoma, done searches. How do you, you know, get to kind of follow that path to make a difference in higher education in Oklahoma?
Mark Stansberry [00:23:22] Kind of goes back to what I talked about earlier about when a door opens, you go in and that’s been my way of life for since The Fund for American Studies. Door opens, you check it out and see what happens. Well I was at a meeting and I was in a buffet line actually at an event. And here came along Governor Henry Bellmon at the time, who I’d known back when he was U.S. Senator and he ran for governor again and won. And this is his second time to serve as governor. And he said, Mark, what are you up to these days? And I told him and he said, you know, I’ve got a position I really want you to think about and that’s to be a region. And I said, Well, tell me about a region. Tell me more about it. And I was around 32 years old and I was wanting to know more about it. He told me about it and so forth. And I said, I don’t know. I said, I really don’t have the experience. He said, No. What you have, though, you know, you’ll be able to make good decisions, I believe. And you do your research and only reach out if you need me, but never reach out for me to give you political advice from a standpoint of how to vote or anything like that. Keep that in mind the rest of your life that you need to do your own research, you need to do your own homework, that it’s in your hands and only use other people for advice. And I thought it was great. So I accepted it. I got appointed by a governor to University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma as a regent. And then in 1999, went to serve as chairman of that particular system. And it was such a learning experience. It was wonderful. And from that, I got involved in other universities. I got joined by Governor Keating, Frank Keating in 2001 for a nine year term for the Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges and served as chairman twice during my term. And then in 2015, I was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin to the regional U.S. System of Oklahoma and I served as chairman two times as well during those five four and a half years. And so I really like giving to the higher education system for my time and efforts. It’s so rewarding to see someone walk across the stage to receive that diploma. It’s so rewarding. And to think that we were just a small part of that effort because all the parents and all the supporters out there and I think of The Fund for American Studies how the scholarships and the encouragement and all these things that you put together, Roger, are so beneficial for our future. And that’s why I want to stay active with the Fund and as a past board of trustees member and currently as a Board of Regents. That part of the Board of Regents, I really feel that our future is stronger than what we can even imagine for our students. And we just need to give some opportunities and so that students can look at the free enterprise, free economic system. The free market. Liberty and freedom. And so I really look at all these things that I’m part of, but it goes right back to those days in D.C..
Roger Ream [00:26:46] Well, yeah. I failed to mention earlier that you serve on our Board of Regents, as well as having served on all these other regions and throughout Oklahoma. And that’s just so important. I had a guest recently in our earlier Liberty and Leadership Podcast, Will Weatherford. Who is just recently elected chairman of the board of the University of South Florida. And we’ve had a number of our alumni serving on college and university boards. And Bobby Tudor in Houston, who was chairman of the Board of Rice. Sometime we should hold a conference of alumni who are on university boards, have served on U.S. boards, and they can compare notes and even be more effective. Kyle Hybl was chairman of the board of University of Colorado. I could name others, but that just outstanding service and a great reflection I think on The Fund for American Studies that you went into that kind of service and you’ve done it in other ways in Oklahoma that I find fascinating. I’d like you to touch on. You were involved with some of the museums there. I think one I noticed in my notes was renamed, I assume because Boone Pickens and the Gaylord family donated money.
Mark Stansberry [00:27:57] Yes. The Gaylord Pickens Museum. And they were so instrumental. I really appreciate their efforts and supply not only funds, but a lot of the effort shows it’s not just contributions, the time and effort they put in to have meetings and schedule things. And it was just wonderful that they helped a lot this. But Oklahoma Hall of Fame was established in 1927.
Roger Ream [00:28:28] Wow.
Mark Stansberry [00:28:29] And so the Gaylord Pickens families wanted to support this effort and have a permanent location for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. And so it’s just a wonderful museum. I hope, if you haven’t been there for others, please, when you’re in Oklahoma City, definitely would like for you to take a walk through the Museum of 1927 on from the Will Rogers all the way to current time frame. It’s just amazing all those have contributed to our great state. And so I appreciate that. One thing I want to say before we go further too is going back to higher education. I do have a podcast called New Scape Hired Advisors, New Scape Hired Advisors with Don Barnes, former president of University of Oklahoma and I have this podcast that I would like to, I think, reach out to some of them. Now that you’ve mentioned this, I mean, something like Will Weatherford, who’s former speaker of the House in Florida, as well as in higher education now. I think there’s some opportunities there as well to expand higher education across the board to others and conversations the way to do it. But yeah going back to the museum it also has a higher education component, but it has energy, education on and on the impact that there is from sports to you name it. And if you look at the list of those who’ve been inducted, it’s unbelievable.
Roger Ream [00:29:55] And that’s in Oklahoma City.
Mark Stansberry [00:29:57] Oklahoma City, yes.
Roger Ream [00:29:59] Yeah. Well, I’ve had the pleasure of coming out several times to Oklahoma City, usually a guest of yours. It’s a great city. I love it quite a lot there to see. I have a niece actually going to Oklahoma City University now and she loves it. And so I’ll echo your encouragement that people visit Oklahoma City. Amazing city. But I want to go back in time just a little bit to when you had that horrific terrorist act in Oklahoma City, bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. What was that like? I know your office I think is in Edmond, but how did it impact you and the city?
Mark Stansberry [00:30:36] Well, my children could feel it at their schools. The shaking of the bomb in downtown Oklahoma City. I was supposed to be downtown that day and I was running late on a phone call. And so I wound up leaving the house and all of a sudden I was supposed to be there, you know, right at the time. 9:01 I would have been actually right downtown at the time of the bombing. And so I was running about 30 – 40 minutes behind. So I wound up hearing what sounded like a major explosion of sorts, but I didn’t know what it was. And I looked towards the downtown. I could see the downtown, at least the buildings, the tall buildings from downtown, from where we lived. But it welled up that I started seeing all the smoke coming up and I thought, well, maybe it’s a plane crash and all these things kept going through my mind. Well, I turned around and went back to the house and we started watching television. But then, you know, the community got really involved. I know that we didn’t know what to do. You know, we were shaken. Everybody’s shaken by it. I had a cousin that wound up downtown. He was an attorney and he wound up being flipped upside down. Two individuals came to help him and got him pulled down from the rubbish and he didn’t know. He passed away a few years ago, but he know to the time of his death who those two people were that helped him get down from the rubble. It wound up where he couldn’t walk. He was a very athletic individual, and he wound up not being able to walk again. But he had that determination to do good things.
Roger Ream [00:32:33] Well, that’s certainly that sense of service and commitment that you have is shared by others in Oklahoma because the city’s come back strong and it’s really a vibrant, beautiful city and in a great state. And I know you have great pride in that and have contributed so much to Oklahoma, and you’ve been honored for that through your induction into one of the Hall of Fame’s there, right?
Mark Stansberry [00:32:56] Well, I have two Hall of Fams that I’m very proud of ones called the Western Oklahoma Hall of Fame and Western Oklahoma. And then there’s the Elk City Leadership Hall of Fame, my hometown, that I inducted this past December. And so I’m very proud of those. And so, yes, it means a lot to me. It’s an encouragement, inspiration to me to be recognized. But really, it’s recognitions, really not about myself. You know, I bring my family with me. It bring Nancy who has been a great supporter as well. I think of my parents, George and Lucy Stansberry, who sacrificed all their time and effort. In fact, Dad drove me because we had a timeline to get to D.C. that we needed to get there at a certain time. And so we wound up my dad drove, we took turns driving from Elk City all the way to Washington, D.C. for The fund in ’76. And then he got on the train and headed back so I could have a car in D.C. And then at the end of the institute, my mom went by train to D.C. Metro Station there, and then we went up driving back to Elk City. That’s the kind of sacrifice, the mentorships. Those are the reason you get these awards. It’s not, you know, it’s all these families and it’s mentors, that’s how you get there. And so that’s why I encourage all of us to reach out to individuals that need encouragement, inspiration and help them get to their their goals. And so you know, I’m very excited about these awards. But that’s really a reflection of those in my past as much as anything.
Roger Ream [00:34:38] Well, that’s a great commitment on the part of your parents and I’d like to take those threads a little further now and see what kind of advice you might be able to offer those in our audience who are recent graduates of TFAS Programs. They’re young, they’re just going to embark on careers. Some of them, you know, have single minded focus. This is what I want to be. I want to be a foreign service officer or I want to go work for, you know, in journalism, for some media companies. You’ve showed that as you’ve said here, it’s important to have a lot of windows open to pursue your passions and you can do it in multiple fields. But that’s great advice. But could you take that a little further and offer some ideas for young people right now who are kind of uncertain about the future and what they want to do and lessons from your successful career as to how they might approach things at a very young age.
Mark Stansberry [00:35:35] I would say one thing is to look out for mentors, if you don’t have a mentor, find one. And I made that in the sense that we should be able to look out as individuals for helping students. But sometimes when a student goes up to someone they really admire and say, you know, I need some help, I need some guidance, that’s a great opportunity right there. And most people will help that student, will definitely encourage that student and really hopefully take it all to help them through their careers. I’ve had so many mentors through the years. I would say that daily continue throughout your life to read, continue to learn. There’s no stopping on learning. You’ve got to continue to do that and to embrace the enterprise system, meaning whether it’s entrepreneurship or through liberty, through freedom, freedom of our society, freedom of market and freedom of enterprise to embrace those things and see what they have to offer, because freedom is a great thing. We shouldn’t want to lose it because it provides all these opportunities I’ve talked about. And without that freedom, none of these things would have occurred. So Liberty’s a great thing to work towards and I would say continue to also live life to the fullest. And that’s each day, not just looking down the road, each day live it to the fullest. One day, if not sooner you’ll be a mentor as well. I think that’s a key, continue to be a mentor. And I had a lot of mentors. Roger, you mentor, thank you for all you’ve done through the years to encourage me and inspire me. And I think of all those in the Fund that have done that. And one thing is to stay plugged in. Students through the Fund for American Studies, you know it’s doesn’t stop at the institute or whatever program you’re part of, it continues for a lifetime. I’ve now been involved with so many things at the Fund that it’s really been such an inspiration. And I’ve learned so many things, but I’ve also gained so many friends through the years, several friends each year. I could say that I’ve gained for going to the events when there’s an annual event or whatever it might be. Participating as much as you can, if you have a local, you know, a local association, join that association, but be involved and you’ll see some benefits from that. Be involved.
Roger Ream [00:37:59] Well, you and your wife, Nancy, have given back in spades. I mean, you’ve been so generous in your financial support as well for scholarships. You’ve got a scholarship to come, you mentioned, and now you’re making it possible for other students who otherwise couldn’t afford it to attend our program. When we did our new strategic plan last year, as you know, we made a commitment to increasing scholarships so that no student who is qualified and wants to come to our program will have to be turned away. So thank you for your financial support too, Mark. It’s very important. I think tied into your last answer is, you know, in a career, you pursue your passions and things that you really love. You on the side also have a very interesting, I don’t mean to belittle it by calling it a hobby because you’re a professional at it, but music and it goes without saying. Or I have to mention that you and your wife, Nancy, performed at our 50th Anniversary Gala at the National Building Museum. You are great on the guitar. I’ve seen your music videos with your grandchildren in them. You’ve sent us CDs. You have a talented son also with a band. Let’s talk about music and how that’s been an important part of your family.
Mark Stansberry [00:39:17] It’s definitely a musical family. Everyone, the in-laws and all. Children are all either singing, playing instruments, both you name it. And it is a rewarding thing to think of Thanksgiving time or Christmas time where I’ll pick up a guitar, sing and play and so forth. I got involved back because my dad was an old time fiddle player. He would go out and play every Friday night. He was a hard worker, he worked really hard. He didn’t have the opportunities that I had by any means for his education. But he was a great fiddle player. And so I learned to play guitar backing him up some of his old tunes. And ended up going to school on a music and leadership scholarship. And that really goes back to parents and people that mentored me along the way. They gave me these opportunities and so it winds up by 1981, Nacy and I produced a 45. Most of the listeners don’t realize, especially students what a 45 vinyl is. It was two singles and we sing and perform in different locations and it went around different radio plays and radio stations, that kind of thing, but then kind of let that die through the years because I was so involved in business and where there’s energy or journalism or movies or other things. But in about 2006, Nacy and I were attending Charleston, South Carolina.
Roger Ream [00:40:51] It was out of our TFAS Donor Conference?
Mark Stansberry [00:40:54] You got it. Yeah, it was. And I had someone that inspired me and Nacy to get up and play.
Roger Ream [00:41:01] I remember it well.
Mark Stansberry [00:41:02] With the band there.
Roger Ream [00:41:04] Yeah.
Mark Stansberry [00:41:04] And we were so enthused by that because the TFAS family is so supportive and there were cheerness on and everything that Nancy and I thought, you know, we need to get back and doing this kind of thing. This is this is really, really fun. So we wound up I had a lot of songs that I’d written back in my twenties and thirties, mainly in my twenties, and I never recorded those. And Matt for a Father’s Day –
Roger Ream [00:41:29] This is your son Matt?
Mark Stansberry [00:41:30] My son Matt Stansberry & The Romance and Aubrey, my daughter and Joe, my son as well who’s in the film business and in music. They came and Nancy bought the guitar and they provided me some other, you know, picks and different things. And Matt said, I’ll help record some of your songs. And he had a little studio, mini studio he put together. And so we recorded 11 songs for the album that I’d written. It’s called Bound Away, and the picture on the front of that album was a picture taken at the Charleston, South Carolina event.
Roger Ream [00:41:32] Oh, wow.
Mark Stansberry [00:41:32] So talk about inspiring. So seven CDs later. And then I wound up getting so inspired that I wound up becoming a member of advisor, that is, to the Recording Academy for the Texas Chapter, which covers Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico. And then they elected me to the Board of Governors for the Texas Chapter for two years from 2005 to 2017. And it was just wonderful to serve on the Recording Academy and be participating in the Recording Academy, went to the Grammys, Grammy events in L.A.. So it was just an inspiring time. So it kind of shows you what can happen with TFAS and the family. It’s really a great way to look at things.
Roger Ream [00:42:52] Yeah, if I’d planned this better, I would have arranged for you to have your guitar at hand there. And we could have closed with you providing some entertainment. But we’ll have to leave that for another visit of yours to Liberty and Leadership. I thank you very much for sharing some of your story today, Mark. It’s been a special for me and I think a real pleasure for those listening to hear about your career and all what you’ve accomplished that we were able to touch on in our limited time today. So thank you so much for being with me.
Mark Stansberry [00:43:25] Well, thank you. And thanks to The Fund for American Studies.
Mark Stansberry [00:43:29] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it, and if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast at TFAS@podcast.org. The Liberty and Leadership podcast is produced at KGlobal Studios in Washington, DC. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.