The Bison-tennial: Kay Slaughter leads explorer mania

The bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's epic journey looms. Like so many others, Kay Slaughter has succumbed to the charms of the dynamic duo.

Who's her favorite, Lewis or Clark?

"I'm very interested in Clark," she says. "There's less written about him." And indeed, the book that got her hooked on the early 19th-century scouts, Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, focused on Lewis, Albemarle County's best-known explorer.

Ambrose's book moved Slaughter to embark on a difficult journey of her own: raising multi-millions for a hands-on, interactive 25,000-square-foot Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center as a way to celebrate the adventures of the peripatetic pair year-round, not just once every century.

Slaughter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, obviously likes challenges. She started law school at age 43 after raising children, a career in education, and working as a reporter. She joined SELC in its infancy in 1986. "I wanted to do something in the public interest– I didn't want to be a corporate lawyer," she says.

Her current favorite SELC project is fighting Newport News' plans to build the King William Reservoir, which would destroy wetlands and Native American grounds. "The Indians have become the spiritual voice about the intrinsic value of the land," she says.

Slaughter knows, of course, that the whole reason Jefferson backed the Lewis and Clark expedition was to exploit the land. Maybe that's why girl guide Sacagawea and African-American York are her favorite characters on the journey.

The former mayor wants to clear up one misperception people have when they note she's not in politics any more. "I think of life as it unfolds as very political in your job or any group, whether the church or Chamber of Commerce," she explains. "I don't hold political office, but I'm still very political."

And if politics is essential to getting the Lewis and Clark center built, well, the explorers have a player on their side.

Age: 63

What brought you here? The first time, my parents brought me when I was an infant; the second time, when I went to UVA Law School.

What's worst about living here? The sprawl on 29 north.

Favorite hangout? Escafé

Most overrated virtue? "Family values" as expressed by the current batch of politicians

What would people be surprised to know about you? I'm an introvert.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be less opinionated.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Helping to get a law passed to allow citizens the right to appeal water and air pollution permits. Also graduating from law school at age 46.

What do people find most annoying about you? I'm opinionated.

Whom do you admire? Sacagawea and the late and great Emily Couric

Favorite book? The Hairstons because it combines history with all the elements of a good novel­ character, development, plot, and suspense. And great writing.

What subject causes you to rant? People who call affirmative action "racial preference," and recently, Trent Lott.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? I love the ability to communicate and get information quickly through the Internet.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Loss of our historic and natural landscapes, and general environmental degradation.

What do you drive? Mazda Protégé

What's in your car CD player right now? Standing in the Shadow of Motown

 What's your next journey? Somewhere west: San Francisco or Lemhi Pass on the Lewis and Clark Trail

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Running against George Allen in a special election

What do you regret? Not becoming an actor, my childhood dream

Favorite comfort food? "Skinny Cows." They're low-fat ice cream bars.

What's always in your refrigerator? Skinny Cows

Must-see TV? West Wing and The Forsythe Saga when it's on

Favorite cartoon? Doonesbury, of course

Describe a perfect day. Sunrise in Ocracoke, late breakfast of eggs and fish roe, kayaking on the Pamlico Sound, nap, reading and dozing, a walk on the beach, watching the sunset, followed by a fabulous meal, music or dancing, and a little romance.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Being a trapeze artist

Who'd play you in the movie? Susan Sarandon

Most embarrassing moment? If I told you, this would be my most embarrassing moment.

Best advice you ever got? Not advice, but therapy by the incomparable Linda Hunt

Favorite bumper sticker? "Jefferson was a Democrat"