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Complex planning behind Clinton Speech

By Jackie Wattles
On April 24, 2014

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an inaugural appearance at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night, and it was far from happenstance. That's what the coordinators of the event will tell you.

"It took eight or nine months of planning," Deidre Goodrich, a staff member of the UConn Foundation, said - and somewhere in the ballpark of $200,000.

Coordinating the event was the work of the UConn Foundation - a private entity that manages the university's donations - UConn President Susan Herbst, and The Fusco Company - a commercial building company that was the sole financial backer.

Lynn Fusco is the president of the company, which recently celebrated its 90th business anniversary. She said her father is the visionary for the lecture series that the Fusco Company started in 2012: The Edmund Fusco Contemporary Issues Forum.

"He contributed to UConn before and wanted to build on it. He wanted to have more interaction," Fusco said. "(My father) had been a big enthusiast about building the University of Connecticut in terms of its programming."

The lecture series has since brought two guests to UConn's campus, the first being Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin in 2012. Goodrich said to then bring a former presidential candidate, secretary of state and first lady to campus was exactly the caliber of speaker they were looking for. 

"This will do wonders to raise the profile of this university," Goodrich said. "It's not just one event, it's an investment in the future."

The event did put the eyes of Connecticut on the university. The waiting list for tickets was thousands long, and the 2,300-seat venue was at capacity. News media from all over the state were present, and Twitter buzzed with quotes and comments from her lecture and subsequent question and answer session. 

Clinton, who sometimes makes more than 10 appearances of this type in a matter of days, was right at home (earlier in the day on Wednesday, Clinton spoke at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts for a leadership forum).  A report by the New York Times from July 2011 indicated the Clinton family has made more than $100 million from speaking engagements since her husband - 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton - left office in 2010. 

The New York Times report also reported the former first lady makes an average of $200,000 per engagement. Her speeches are booked through an agency - the Harry Walker Agency - that coordinates her appearances for her. 

Goodrich said the ballpark figure was accurate, and it took months of coordinating with the Harry Walker Agency to pick a date and work out the security detail; as a former first lady, she is protected by the secret service. Goodrich said because Clinton was coming off her stint as secretary of state when the planning process initially began, it took a while to find a window.

But Fusco said Clinton was the type of exhilarating speaker they wanted.

 "It's a legacy for us and an awakening for the students. In that sense, it goes both ways," Fusco said. "We worked with (UConn Foundation Associate Vice President for Development) Frank Gifford and the foundation in terms of which guests would titillate the students' interest and create a debate.

"The foundation is the catalyst and the matchmaker to make it all work really well. We're extremely pleased with all the events we've worked on with the foundation," Fusco said. "They have a very good idea of what it is we're trying to capture."


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