By: Megan M. Seckman

Nana’s watercolor painting shows Can Boix in the Spanish Pyrenees. Photos by Melissa Donald. 

It is difficult to capture the essence of a person with mere words. Description often falls short and cannot truly convey the exact energy a radiant human so strongly casts. This certainly applies to Nana Lampton.

The writing desk Nana bought in Morocco.

Sure, there are articulate bios out there that detail her accomplishments: a published author; graduate of both Wellesley College with a bachelor’s in English and the University of Virginia with a master’s in literature; the chairman and CEO of Hardscuffle Inc. and American Life and Accident Insurance Company of Kentucky; board member to virtually everything that advocates for nature conservation or historical preservation — Louisville community development, Shakers, Berea, or the arts. Oh, and she is the Honorary Consulate to the Kingdom of Morocco as well as a grass-fed Angus farmer, painter, and poet.

But this list only defines what she does — not how she thinks, not how she inspires, not her feminism. This is where description fails me.

Nana’s broad life experiences and curiosity have contributed to her success.

In one hour together, I heard about a montage of life experiences that transcend Nana’s lifelong home of Louisville. Like poetry, they were pieced together in images that defined a life: Attending a very small Collegiate all-girls school. Attending speech classes as a Wellesley freshman. Talking to Diane Sawyer at Wellesley five years before Hillary Clinton arrived there. Meeting Gloria Steinem at a C200 conference in New York when she was one of only four women in her M.A. program at UVA. Being hired by her grandfather “in a time when women weren’t seen as much.” Traveling to Ireland and Morocco. Waking up to farm business each morning. Publishing her most recent book of poetry inspired by her grandfather, Wash the Dust from My Eyes. Being “crowded out” of her historic home by books.

Nana created wood carvings to make the prints for her cover jacket using the block printing technique.  

Through these experiences, these images, Nana has nurtured her mind, first and foremost, and cultivated strong ties throughout her community.

“If there is one thing I believe, it is that belonging to a place, a company, and surrounding yourself with people that love you — belonging to them — that is what is really important for brain development,” Nana says.

Part of Nana’s library.

“I’m drawn to a higher view,” she adds as she looks out toward the winding Ohio River from her lofty downtown office. “In literature and in life, a higher view captures more of what’s happening. From higher up, you get more of the picture; more point of view. Tolstoy is my favorite because he can achieve this. He can see an issue from all perspectives. I read to gain a higher view.”

What She’s Reading:

  • Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power by Steve Fraser. From the American Revolution through the Civil Rights movement, Americans have long mobilized against political, social, and economic privilege. But over the last half-century, America’s resistance to controlling wealth has vanished. Fraser’s book attempts to answer this conundrum. “This book was given to me by Ben Chandler. It’s basically about the notion of “have brain, will travel,” meaning that the most creative thinkers and activists tend to be in flux. So, bad things happen when these minds don’t unite, put down roots, and push together for things like women’s and civil rights.”
  • Our Only World: Ten Essays by Wendell Berry. Tackling capitalism, Afghanistan and post-war restoration, climate change, population displacement, and many other complex, controversial topics, Wendell Berry provides food for thought for dealing with our world’s most pressing issues. “This book is not only ideological. This book really discusses how we can do things. A lovely collection of essays!”
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. The story of Juan Diego and his sister Lupe, who thinks she can read the future, but she can actually only read someone’s past. Discusses the themes of aging and how our past collides with our future. “This is what I’m reading currently. He’s such a wonderful writer who has created such interesting characters. He’s my age, and I saw him discuss this book at an author forum recently.”
This was a last minute addition to her list. Nana says the book is well written and explains much about the Middle East. 

What She’s Watching:

  • Youth. Starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, this is the story of a retired composer and a screenwriter vacationing at a Swiss spa. “This movie is so bizarre and visually imaginative that it had me talking about it for weeks. It is subtle with some big punches.”
  • Brooklyn, the Academy-nominated story of an Irish immigrant in the 1950s. “I spend a lot of time in Ireland, so this film is sentimental to me. The courage of the heroine and how she finds her way in America is inspiring. The character’s face is so lovely — subtle and modulate and refreshingly expressive! She will stick with you.”
  • Madam Secretary on CBS (Sundays @ 8pm). The private and political life of a female secretary of state. “This show is so on point. The portrayal of how the character has to grapple with decision-making — this show is brilliant and realistic.”

What She’s Listening To:

  • The History of the U.S. by The Teaching Company, a comprehensive history of the United States composed by multiple professors and historians in 84 30-minute lectures. “I listen to the 42 CD recordings on my commute to and from work every day. My friend John Hale (an archaeology professor at the University of Louisville) gave this to me, and I have found it so interesting. When I finish with this, War and Peace is next!”
  • Cecile Salvant. This 26-year-old award-winning jazz singer has a voice akin to Ella Fitzgerald.
  • Met Opera. “Winter has many bad Saturdays, so I’ve been listening to the Met Opera’s Saturday matinee broadcasts. It’s so beautiful and makes a dreary day more bearable.”