As the Triangle’s creative class gets together at Spark Con this week to discuss ways to make the most of the region’s arts and high-tech potential, they should look for inspiration to an 80-year-old Durham woman who died last month.
Lucie Lee Abramson Wing was a musician, communications visionary and political activist who joined all her interests in a way that was not only effective but world-changing. Working under former Gov. Jim Hunt, she created OPEN/net, a statewide satellite and cable television network that allowed North Carolinians to ask leaders in state government tough questions. She was co-chair of Terry Sanford’s 1972 presidential campaign. She played the vibraphone, once getting pointers from Lionel Hampton. When she was 78, Nancy Wilson recorded a song she wrote on an album that won a Grammy, and she won a regional Emmy for Smart Start Kids, a participatory children’s TV program she created. And that just scratches the surface. I’m proud to say she was a dear friend of my family and went to high school in New Orleans with my father many, many years ago.
Her obituary captured the details of her accomplishments, but not the essence. For that I spoke with one of her two sons, Dr. Steve Wing, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health and himself a leader in the environmental justice movement, now studying the health and social impacts of industrial agriculture on Eastern North Carolina. (Her other son, Scott, is a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution.)
“The media and technology were a bridge between her musical interests and her political interests,” Steve Wing recalled. “She was very self-aware about little-D democracy. Her political work was based in part on her mother’s work in New Orleans.”
Lee Wing’s mother, Marion Abramson, was active in the city’s political reform movement of the 1940s and later was a leader in its school desegregation efforts; there’s a high school in New Orleans named after her. She also was a founder of the city’s public television station.
“That was a part of my mom’s interest, in using public television to democratize the media in terms of having noncommercial broadcasting that could help increase participation in civic life,” Wing said.
And Lucie Lee (as she was known in New Orleans) was profoundly influenced by the city’s music culture.
“So, partly her artistic interests were aesthetic, but then, in her later years, she really tried to connect them with public participation through the kids’ shows on radio and television, which were designed to let the kids participate themselves so they’d be active, not passive, participants in the information,” he said.
“And she was indefatigable,” her son said. “She kept going and going–a week before she died, she was working on the things she believed in.”
A celebration of Wing’s life is planned Sunday, Sept. 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. in Bay 7 at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.