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The case for re-inventing yourself: Islanders talk about their lives and work, plus a Reporter podcast

Josh Sapan’s new book, “The Third Act,” tells the stories of 60 extraordinary people who embraced new challenges and new careers in their lives.

On Friday, May 26, he and three special guests entertained a crowd in the community room of the Shelter Island Public Library with their stories of rejuvenation and opportunity.

By turns inspiring and hilarious, Shelter Island Reporter editor and columnist Susan Carey Dempsey, local physician and former English teacher, Dr. Joshua Potter, and writer Bill Persky, responsible for some of the best television comedy in history  — such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “That Girl” — held forth with Josh Sapan egging them on. They needed little encouragement.

Ms. Dempsey told of responding to a classified ad for a copy editor in the Reporter that brought her back to Shelter Island, after a career in nonprofits, as an editor and columnist for the Reporter when Ambrose Clancy gave her the space and encouragement to grow.

Dr. Joshua Potter told of dreaming of a career in medicine, working as an English teacher, and finally becoming a doctor, while nurturing his writing throughout his paying careers.

He has now added columnist and poet to his resume. “Even as an adult I spent all my spare time reading,” Dr. Potter said “and I have four children.”

“Well, that’s four nights you didn’t read,” Bill Persky said.

Mr. Persky’s story had the room in stitches as he described working at Grossingers in the Catskills in 1950, where he saw a comedy writer named Mel Brooks bomb before a Wednesday night summer crowd.

“They got rid of him the next day. Years later I met him and I said, ‘I saw you at Grossinger’s’ and he said, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’”

Like Ms. Dempsey, Mr. Persky said it was a classified ad that got him in on the ground level at radio station WNEW. His story of how that big break led to another and eventually to Hollywood was funny as well as inspiring. Now in his 90s, he continues to teach and mentor young comedians and writers and work with the writing program for Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

When Mr. Sapan wanted to know what besides classified ads leads to satisfying work, Ms. Dempsey and Mr. Persky both spoke of the importance of staying connected to a community.

“To impart what I know how to do to other people, so it matters to other people that you are still here,”  Mr. Persky said. “The biggest thing to me is to remain relevant.”