When you’re a member of the world-famous Flying Wallenda circus family, earning a college degree and working a regular office job could be considered boring. But as one of the leaders of the National Turkey Federation, Lisa Wallenda Picard’s job is hardly regular.
Coming from a family known in the circus world for their daredevil acrobatic acts, Picard was first introduced to the high wire at age 4. And while she continued to perform and practice, her parents insisted she go to college.
“There was never an option that I not go,” said Picard, who graduated Flagler in 1992 with a degree in communication. “I performed with my aunt during summer breaks when I was at Flagler, but she also insisted I continue school. But it wasn’t a hard sell, continuing school with my best friends in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”
While enrolled at Flagler, Picard got her first taste of politics as an intern at the national headquarters of the Bush/Quayle campaign in 1992. One of her many duties included acting as the assistant to the president’s oldest son, George W. Bush, when he came to headquarters.
“As you can imagine, this incredible experience fueled a passion for government and politics I still have today,” said Picard.
After working on Capitol Hill for a few years, Picard earned a master’s degree in legislative affairs and was soon hired as a lobbyist for Feld Entertainment, owners of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.
“Having grown up in a circus family, I had a unique insight into the challenges experienced by travelling shows,” said Picard, who would eventually become the national director of public relations for Ringling.
With the stress of travel and the birth of her two daughters, Picard settled down to a job with the Department of Agriculture that allowed her to stay near her home in Virginia. Nearly a decade later, Picard made the switch to the National Turkey Federation where she serves as vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
You might think Picard’s busy time is around Thanksgiving, but the truth is turkey year-round is a nearly $18 billion a year industry.
“My job is to make sure our members — turkey farmers, producers and everyone else involved in packaging and shipping turkey — are able to comply with the myriad of government regulations related to food production,” said Picard. “I also oversee regulations concerning animal welfare issues and the more than $678 million export market.”
But she does get to have a little fun around the holidays. Picard helps to coordinate the yearly turkey pardon with the White House.
“I don’t get to personally select the turkey — one of our farmers does that — but I do help coordinate the ceremony,” said Picard. “It is such a neat tradition that dates back to President Harry Truman and it’s such a privilege to be able to attend this event each year.”
But for someone who grew up in the circus, walking a thread high above the ground, how hard is it to adjust to being “normal”?
“I don’t sit well. I still find it hard to be inside all day,” joked Picard.