Leah Lair Conner’s life is filled with the things she loves.
“My family and faith are, without a doubt, my biggest joy,” she readily admitted.
She knows how blessed she is to be on solid ground in her marriage.
“Tod and I have a relationship that is indescribable, really – that man is just incredible,” she confessed. “He is so much more than just my husband, and in a very real way, to me, he sort of saved my life – or at least helped me discover its worth and purpose.”
She says Tod gave her the confidence to be the person she always hoped to be.
It hasn’t always been that way.
“I spent most of my life in a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with my body,” Conner acknowledged. “I battled anorexia and bulimia through my teens and twenties, and I still wrestle with what I affectionately refer to as ‘an eating-disordered mind’ regarding food and self-image. I am extremely self-conscious, which is something only the people closest to me know – and now, I guess everyone else reading this article.”
It’s a battle she has obviously won.
When she slid out of a party dress during The Community Players’ recent production of Tennessee William’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” she didn’t bat an eye. In fact, she made walking around the stage in a full slip and high heels look easy.
“I have this wonderful person in my life – this incredible man, who builds up my confidence and almost has me convinced I look okay – sometimes,” she said, candidly. “And, he told me he had no doubt in me for this role. That helped a lot. Undressing down to the slip, and then walking around in it, was so much easier than I expected. ”
When she took the role of Maggie, she also wanted to send a message to her children, Sadie Grace, 12; Kelty Lawren, 9; and twins Lucy Jane and McInnis Arther (Mac), 7.
“I felt it was very important that my children see me as being comfortable,” she explained. “This world is so full of negative messages regarding bodies, especially the female form, and I struggle. Playing Maggie forced me to ignore the struggle, and it forced me to show them strength in a way I feel is so, so important – especially for our girls.”
While she says raising kids is “the hardest thing” she’s ever done, she also thinks it’s the coolest.
In addition to great love for her husband and family, Conner also lets herself feel great emotions.
“We go to First United Methodist, and watching our children grow up in that church brings joyful tears to my eyes just thinking about it,” she confessed. “There's nothing more important in this life than figuring out the supreme importance of relating with the Creator!”
Conner grew up in Sulphur Springs, the daughter of Nita and James Lair. Her father died when she was 13.
“It was a terrible loss at a terrible time in my life,” she confessed. “For me, junior high was just awkward and generally awful.”
Her mother married Tim Kelty, whom she calls her “second dad.”
She became part of an extended family that included her two brothers, two stepbrothers and a stepsister.
“My parents are a huge part of my life,” she noted. “We've always been very close, and they have seen me through many seasons and taught me the meaning of unconditional love. I hate to think how my life would have turned out had I not had them constantly encouraging me, building me up, and never giving up – even when, several times, I was quite ready to give up on myself.
She graduated from Sulphur Springs High School in 1991, enrolled at Dallas Baptist University and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1994. She received a master’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M-Commerce.
After working as a patient advocate for a hospital in Terrell and in the trade show industry that required her to spend a lot of time in Montreal, she decided to move home.
“My plan was to just take some time off, rest, figure things out and go back to school,” she remembered. “And that’s just what I did. I met Tod [a pediatrician] very soon after moving back home, as he was recruited here by our hospital straight out of residency in Houston.”
In addition to her husband, Conner admits an affection for Tennessee Williams.
“Tennessee Williams is, without question, my favorite playwright,” she said. “I fell in love with his works in high school, and it has never faded.”
She was introduced to two of William’s plays, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie,” at SSHS.
“‘The Glass Menagerie’ was my favorite, simply because I love the whole ‘blue roses/pleurosis’ thing,” she explained. “I don’t remember doing these on the stage – I think it was just class-work, but it started my romance with Williams’ plays.”
Conner not only stars in The Community Players’ productions, she is their president.
Conner’s favorite moments in “Cat” were also the most emotional ones for her.
“During the first act, I was sitting on the bed, and Brick was on the couch, sounds of the croquet game could be heard,” she explained. “I had just said to Brick, ‘If I thought you would never, ever make love to me again, I would go down to the kitchen, and I would find the longest, sharpest knife I could find, and I would stab it into my heart. I swear that I would.’”
As she sat there, the tears welled up.
“Next, I had to say, ‘And later tonight, I’m going to tell you I love you. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be drunk enough to believe me,’” she remembered. “I was absolutely overcome with emotion and sadness, and it took real strength just to get the lines out. It was a beautiful moment.”
Though Maggie was her second role with The Community Players, theater has always been a part of Conner’s life. She landed the role of Mrs. Somes in a high school production of “Our Town.”
She has mixed feelings about the woman.
“I both loved and didn’t so much like my character,” she declared. “It was fun playing the town’s busybody gossip, but I remember being disappointed with the way Thornton Wilder depicted the souls who had passed on in the final act [of which Mrs. Soames was one]. Our characters [the dead souls] were indifferent to the lives of those we left behind on earth. Having recently lost my father, I didn’t like this idea and found it disturbing that he might no longer be paying attention to my life’s happenings. Thank God, it was just a play!”
She was involved in a “huge production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” while in at DBU. She played the part of Yente, the matchmaker, and she was responsible for the men’s beards.
When asked why she auditioned for the role of Maggie, Conner said, “Williams’ characters just resonate with me in a way that is downright gut wrenching and emotionally draining –?but in a good way, if that’s possible.”
Books, movies, television and music are also among Conner’s favorites.
She read C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” when she was eight.
“I’ve read the whole series more times than I can count, and never fail to enjoy it – and find something new,” she noted.
She is also partial to Stephen King’s “Duma Key,” which she finds strange since she is not really an “invested” fan of King’s work.
She’s read everything written by Wally Lamb, Patricia Cornwell and Jodi Piccoult. Otherwise, she “pretty much” sticks to fiction.
“I don’t need any more real than the real I live in every day,” she exclaimed.
Conner has two favorite movies.
“I love ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ because for months, when Tod and I didn’t have cable in our bedroom so we watched it almost every night on VHS,” she remembered. “We both know every line, I’m pretty sure, and I still love to watch it.”
She’s also a sucker for the “true love” story in “Sense and Sensibility.”
She says she’s old school when it comes to television, noting that “Frasier” is the show she watches the most.
“I think the wit is more intelligent, for lack of a better description, than so many shows these days,” she observed.
Conner’s favorite band is Train.
“I have loved those guys since they first hit the airwaves in 1994, and I don’t think anyone could ever knock them out of my favorite spot,” she said.
The band has gotten the family through several sad times, including the loss of Tod’s parents, her stepbrother, grandmother and great-nephew.
“We listened to a lot of Train while driving a lot of miles, and it always made all of us feel better and connect,” she remembered. “No matter what, when a Train song came on the radio, everyone stopped and sang along. We still do.”
She had a chance to sing with them while on a cruise in February.
“Tod entered me in a contest, and I got the opportunity to sing, with [lead singer] Pat Monahan. It was fabulous.”
“Fabulous” is the way to describe Leah Lair Conner’s life these days, but she does have a wish list.
“I’d like another Tennessee Williams play on the schedule for 2015.”
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