Derby Academy teacher inspired her students to be successful, including her own children

Lesley Visser

December 5, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer

Former Hingham residents Lesley and Chris Visser attribute their successful careers to their late mother, Mary Visser, who taught them and many other students when she was a fourth-grade teacher at Derby Academy in the 1960s and set a good example for them all.

In the year 1962, she actually taught both of her children -- Chris in the spring of 1962, and her younger daughter, Lesley, in the fall. Both Lesley and Chris went on to have successful careers in sports reporting and broadcasting.

"My mother was the same kind of woman as my sister is -- fearless and extraordinary," Chris told the Hingham Anchor. "She loved literature, history, and sports and could discuss with you Wordsworth and Shakespeare and Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, and Bill Russell -- all with the same fluency. I don't think it's a coincidence that both of her children went into sports-related careers."

Lesley Visser wearing her Derby Academy scarf for CBS interview

Lesley is known as the most highly acclaimed female sportscaster of all time, with many "firsts" to her credit -- including being the first female NFL analyst in both radio and television; first woman on the network broadcasts of the NBA Finals, World Series, and Final Four; and the first woman enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Lesley was also voted the No. 1 Female Sportscaster of All-Time by the National Sportscasters of America.

Her legendary career began at the Boston Globe in 1975 after she won a Carnegie Foundation Grant -- based on the paper she wrote about her desire to be a sportswriter -- awarded to only 20 women in the country with the goal of getting into careers that at that time were held almost exclusively by males.

Lesley has covered the NFL since 1974 and is still a sports journalist with CBS. Among her mentors were her late mother, Mary, and the legendary sportswriters from the Boston Globe -- Bud Collins, Peter Gammons, Will McDonough, and Bob Ryan -- and her sports editor Vince Doria.

"It was like working with the '27 Yankees. Everyone was the best at his position in the history of the sport," she said. "I used to cover Wimbledon or the Super Bowl and say, 'Hi, I'm Lesley Visser, I work with Bud Collins, or Will McDonough,' and the heavens would part. They all gave me time and opportunity, for which I don't have enough thanks. My brother and I were raised with an attitude of gratitude."

Lesley was elected to the Sportswriters Hall of Fame for her work at the Boston Globe, magazines, and and was voted to the Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame for her work at CBS, ABC and HBO.

Chris and Lesley Visser at a Kentucky Derby event

In 2016, Lesley won the Newseum Award for Lifetime Achievement, which was first awarded to Walter Cronkite, and had the honor of reporting from the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and of throwing out the first pitch for her beloved Red Sox in 2013.

There are many other accolades, recognitions, and awards that are too numerous to mention.

Lesley just turned from Central Asia.  She was invited by the U.S. State Department to speak to women journalists, athletes, and entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan.

"It was profound," said Lesley, whose experience will be shown on CBS' "We Need To Talk" on Wednesday, Dec. 7.  "Uzbekistan is only 30 years from being a repressed Soviet Republic, and progress is slow, but they're trying to become more Western. I found young women full of enthusiasm to try and change some policies."

Lesley even had a taste of home while there. "The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent had Thanksgiving for me," she said. "They all wanted to hear about Thanksgivings on the MaddenCruiser and John Madden's six-legged turkey!"

Chris's career has involved producing more than 3,000 broadcasts, most of them sports-oriented, including the Super Bowl for 36 years straight.

"I've had the privilege of working with many famous athletes, including Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Bill Russell, Wayne Gretzky, and John McEnroe," he said.

Both he and Lesley were sportswriters in college, which led to careers in the sports field. Chris was the sports editor of a college paper in Florida and segued into producing college football broadcasts, getting his start from Curt Gowdy through a connection he had with Lesley.

Chris went on to produce NFL and baseball broadcasts for 18 years for Fox Sports and started his own sports marketing company -- Anterosports -- in 1995.

In his work, he has traveled to 62 different countries and interviewed six presidents -- Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and both Bushes -- who were involved with specific events that he was broadcasting.

Class photo - 4th grade Mary Visser - Lesley Visser to her left (white headband)

Chris interviewed Nixon as part of an ABC tribute to Don Shula, Ford at a number of golf events, and Reagan during a U.S. Olympics volleyball press conference.

"My mother realized that a well-educated citizenry is the best hope for our nation's future -- not only for her children but for every child," Chris said. "She wanted us both to have as many experiences as she could provide us with, both in and outside the classroom. My sister and I benefitted greatly from how we were raised and educated in Hingham, by a very remarkable woman, teacher, and mother."

Hingham resident Tom Bright was in Mary Visser's 4th-grade class with Chris. "She was very innovative and lively," Bright remembers. "We had a debate on the topic of which did more to further the cause of American liberty -- the American Revolution or the Civil War," he recalled. "It was a great exercise.

We worked as a team, came up with ideas, wrote speeches, and debated in front of the rest of our class and the fifth-grade."

Bright called Mary Visser "a memorable teacher who adored Harry Belafonte. Her classes were always fun. She was a natural teacher," he said. Bright enjoyed seeing Chris and Lesley at a Derby alumni event a few years ago.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, women didn't have the same opportunities that Lesley was on the forefront of later on, Chris noted, "so my mother poured all of her energy into Lesley and me and other children to help them be successful. That was her legacy. This is a tribute not only to my mother but to Derby Academy."

Mary Visser passed on in 2002 after serving as a teacher for 35 years, several of them at Derby Academy.

Chris and Lesley on the boat to Holland!

"Derby Academy and my mother absolutely shaped who I am," Lesley said. "At Derby we learned how to write thank-you notes and how to shake someone's hand and look them in the eye. It was a fantastic education."

She recalls a day before her family moved to Hingham from Quincy when she, Chris, and their mother were taking the bus home from Derby Academy and Mary discovered they were eating a candy bar, which she knew she hadn't given to them.

The truth -- that they had taken it without paying for it from a pharmacy in Hingham Square -- came out, and they all took the bus back to Hingham "to apologize to the owner and pay him the five cents for the candy bar, and then take the bus back home," Lesley remembered.

Both Chris and Lesley recall that they were not allowed to call their mother "Mom" when they were each in her class for one year -- Lesley was one year behind -- but rather, "Mrs. Visser" during the school day. "She was such a fair person that she wouldn't even help us with our homework!" she said.

Chris said their mother was "very proud to have been a member of the Derby faculty."

Lesley recalls that as children, Chris was "the perfect older brother, ignoring me in school -- where he was always the captain of sports teams -- and then taking me to Fenway Park. He taught me how to score baseball."

Their mother was also a big sports fan. "She lived to watch Big East triple-headers. She loved all sports, which was unusual at that time," Lesley said. "Growing up in the Boston area, our childhood was all about the Celtics, Ted Williams, and Bobby Orr."

Later, throughout her career, their mother would laugh with Lesley "when I embarrassed myself, and she would help me put it all into perspective," she recalled. "Our mother would also champion our successes."

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