Last year, Jeff Pegues arrived early for a book signing.
The 1988 Staples High School graduate — who rose through the broadcast ranks and is now CBS News justice/homeland security correspondent — had published his second book, Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy.
He sat in his car at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, watching dozens of people arrive. It was a bigger crowd than in many major cities.
“I was humbled, and struck by how many Westporters are interested in information beyond the headlines,” Pegues says.
“That’s not always the case. And it troubles me.”
When the Westport Library — which had sponsored his talk off-site, during its renovation project — wrote a thank-you note, he started thinking what more he could do.
He’s a fan of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which sponsors a long-running, provocative speakers’ series.
Pegues lives in Washington, DC. But his hometown — and hometown library — retain strong holds on him.
Would the library be interested in a series of interview/conversations with intriguing newsmakers? he wondered.
Would we ever! replied executive director Bill Harmer.
With a generous donation from Christian J. and Eva W. Trefz, the Newsmakers Series kicks off on Saturday, January 25 (7 p.m.). The first guest is Mo Rocca, noted CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.
It takes place in the soaring Forum — which, thanks to a previous $1 million gift, already bears the Trefz name.
Quarterly events are planned. Pegues will help bring intellectuals, foreign policy experts, politicians, actors, artists, athletes and other newsmakers to Westport — and will moderate each. His job is to help the audience “understand who they really are.”
Pegues is enthusiastic about the project.
“The library is a destination for ideas,” he notes. “And it’s important for newsmakers to come to a town with so many influential people.”
As a journalist, he notes, he often asks questions like “how did you get here?” What, for example, motivated the child of a single mom in Akron to not only become a basketball superstar, but to speak out about topics most athletes would not touch?
LeBron James would be a perfect candidate for a Trefz Newsmaker evening, Pegues says.
Rocca — the first interviewee — has “a unique take on people,” Pegues says. “He has an incredible ability to mix news judgment with a comedic touch.”
Rocca’s resume includes 4 seasons each with “The Daily Show” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show”; the “Mobituaries” podcast and book (an irreverent but well-researched appreciation of intriguing things past), and current gigs on both “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
He’s won 2 Emmy Awards — one fewer than Pegues.
“Westporters should have access to people like Mo,” Pegues says. “They want clarity and insights.”
He looks forward to helping provide it — in a place that is particularly meaningful to him.
“Westport is a huge part of my upbringing,” Pegues says. “My parents moved here in the late 1970s for 2 reasons: the minnybus, and the library.”
The townwide transportation system — whose hub was Jesup Green — is long gone.
In 1986, the library moved to its new location, next to the green. A few months ago, it reopened in a transformed, 21st-century way.
Next month, Jeff Pegues helps the Westport Library become even more special and vibrant than it already is.
(General admission tickets for the 1st Trefz Newsmakers Series on January 25 are $35, and include a copy of Mo Rocca’s “Mobituaries” book. VIP tickets are $100, and include a private reception with Rocca, and preferred seating in the Forum. Click here for tickets.)