The Center for Environmental Policy has announced the winners of the 2018 William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Leadership, Mamie A. Parker and William Baker.
Mamie Parker is a pioneer environmentalist. She worked as a fish and wildlife biologist, the former Chief of Staff and Head of Fisheries of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and was first African American appointed to the Senior Executive Service in the FWS. However, her passions and identity go far beyond those titles. Mamie is also a community organizer, a civil rights activist, and a conservationist.
Ms. Parker grew up near the banks of the Bartholomew Bayou and Lake Enterprise in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana in the 1960's. Her interests in fisheries began as a result of her large family relying heavily on fishing local waterways for food sources. As a young girl, discovering the presence of mercury pollution in the water instilled in Mamie a curiosity and motivation to protect the environment.
Ms. Parker has worked throughout the United States in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Georgia, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. She helped create the National Fish Habitat Action Plan in partnership with the nation's Fisheries Program, for which the President of the United States presented her with the Presidential Rank award, an award given to only the top one percent of all government employees. She has assisted with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, federal water resource development planning, invasive species protection, environmental contaminants coordination, marine mammal conservation, national wetland inventory and coastal barrier mapping.
When prompted to explain how she was able to gain greater support for wildlife and fisheries she said, "Over time I realized it wasn't the water or the wildlife it was the people. Not to touch what's logical in their head but what's in their heart, if you can change how people feel about policy in their heart you can make them care." She also emphasizes her womanhood as a key to her success, "As I look back, I really believe being a woman gave me the skills to be flexible, a good listener, a nurturer, a consensus builder, and also a survivor. You use what you learned in school and you train to observe wildlife and fish — you use those same skills in watching people. It's not always what they say it's the nonverbal, seeing how people act versus what they say." However, she also acknowledged being a woman in a male-dominated field at that time was not easy. "A big challenge was working with mostly men much of my career and realizing I was a role model. I want to bring others up so I can really believe I did my part.
Ms. Parker's communication and leadership skills are evident in the multitude of roles and honors she has received. As an Aspen Institute Fellow, she was selected for the Council of World Women Leaders exchange program in southern Africa. As Northeast Regional Director for the Department of Interior she served as the lead negotiator between the Department and General Electric during the clean-up of the Hudson River. She co-authored an American Fisheries Society (AFS) book entitled The Future of Fisheries. In addition, the AFS awarded her the Emmaline Moore Award, named for the society's first female president.
Ms. Parker's involvement in the community, as a leader, also runs deep. She is a board member of the Student Conservation Association and a Virginia Trustee of The Nature Conservancy. Parker also serves on the Board of Directors of Brown Advisory Investment, Marstel Day Conservation Consulting, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Potomac Conservancy, and the Chesapeake Conservancy. A member of the Rotary Club International, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Links, among many more.
How have your priorities regarding environmental policy changed over time?
My mother was my mentor and Marvin Gaye song mercy mercy me, what my mother didn't teach me he taught me about the environment. There was a part of the song that talked about mercury in the water, I was eating fish in the waters and I discovered there was a lot of pollution in the water. A lot of my protein I got was from the water. It was a big family, I was motivated to do something about clean water at the time. And learn about understand clean water policies and what they mean and the chemicals and what they meant and the environmental impacts. Over time I realized it wasn't the water or the wildlife it was the people. Not touch what's logical in their head but what's in their heart, if you can change how people feel about policy in their heart you can make them care. The model we use in environmental justice, anything we talk about people are moved in their hearts not their head. The passion comes from what your heart feels and what you feel about an issue, and understand what will happen when you don't care.
As a public servant for over 30 years, a recipient of numerous awards, a trailblazer in every sense, what personal traits do you attribute to your success?
As I look back, I really believe being a woman gave me the skills to be flexible, a good listener, a nurturer, a consensus builder, and also a survivor. You use what you learned in school and you train to observe wildlife fish whatever and you sue those same skills in watching people. It's not always what they say it's the nonverbal, seeing how people act versus what they say. Those skills were helpful, also I great up in the apartheid south, it was 60 years ago that Eisenhower sent troops into little rock, and I'm so excited to get to go back and speak there, I was named after mammie Eisenhower. It was being one of the first to integrate my public school in 3rd grade, which isn't bad now but it's bad when you think about the 1960' you really were a pioneer, people didn't want you there. But having those skills to survive as a pioneer, it can be a very lonesome experience, starting as a 3rd grader learning how to be alone by myself and figuring how to use that time and reflect and plan ahead. I left southern Arkansas I live in Wisconsin for a long time which was quite different environment and food, it was like being in another country. So having skill to really survive and learn by yourself and learning how to be only women, only southerner only black, you grow into appreciating the experience, but you also learn how to understand others perspectives, I've tried to understand developers perspective, or corporate America because I've been on the other side. Homing in on those great communication skills.
What do you think has been your biggest challenge in your career?
Pioneers, particularly women when you spend a lot of times outdoors traveling, in my generation we had to make choices, I have regrets I never became a parent. My biggest challenge was balancing those two things, figuring out how I could do both but also maintaining my femininity. Big challenge I worked with a lot of guys most of my career, realizing I was a role model and really feeling that I stood up to those expectation but also brought girls along with me. I want to bring others so I can really believe I did my part, when I see them I get chills when they said they made it when they said they thought about quitting but they thought about people like me.
Which award or moment in your career are you most proud of and why?
I was probably impressed with receiving presidential rank award, because I think that was saying a lot but also thinking about the people that nominated me and why they nominated me. The smaller ones I have received from my community, church, they have been important. The one in the office and on my wall is from my family. We have a family reunion every 2 years and we honor members of the family over 200+, it's a humanitarian award, so I got that in 2009, it was going to me and my husband when he was dying of stomach cancer at the age of 50, it reminds me of the spirit of living, and it reminds me despite all these accomplishments to stay grounded and remember your family. "Parker-Rollins Humanitarian Award"
I always want to connect the experience with the importance of academia and the family around, the college family itself, the theme of supporting others, and making deposits in others to get returns, one of my favorite quotes, I remember hearing it the first time I saw a coke bottle and had the recycling bottle, no deposit and no return, and my mom said you have to make deposits to get returns. In the learning environment, there a lot of great investments going on in conservation and we as citizens and practitioners it's our responsibility to come back and make deposits in students, the future generation, the next generation of conservationist is as experienced as we are. We had our ups and downs, it usually works out all right. "no deposit, no return" In spite of all our worries and fears it turns out okay, but that's the optimist in me. Coming from the poorest region in this country to now the richest county in America it worked out okay.
Will Baker has been the President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) since 1982, but his career at the organization started when he was an intern in 1976. According to Baker, "Next to my family, this organization is the most important thing in my life."
As the largest nonprofit conservation organization dedicated solely to preserving, protecting, and restoring the Chesapeake Bay, CBF has been integral to the ecology of the region. As protector of the Bay, Mr. Baker has fought tirelessly to combat irresponsible policies being pushed in Washington and state capitols.
The foundation has served as advisor, researcher, and external supporter to the EPA, assisting in the advancement of transformative environmental laws throughout the past five decades. The organization, under Baker's leadership, was critical in assisting local governments and the EPA during the 1980's and 90's as the extent of non-point source pollution - polluted stormwater runoff - became evident in the Bay. CBF engaged diverse stakeholders to come together and demand immediate cleanup and protective legislation to mitigate and prevent the broad array of polluting sources research had uncovered.
When asked how the organization has been able to garner such extensive support, Baker said, "The brand and reputation of the organization is critical to our success now and in the future. Our reputation is based on what we have been able to achieve, how we make decisions, and the kind of people we have working for us. We always follow sound science, we maintain financial stability."
CBF is known for its leadership, integrity, and community engagement. According to Mr. Baker, "We have built our organization in large part because we have exposed people to the Bay, its wonders, its critical ecology, and the imperative to save it. Once you give people a chance to know it, they get behind it."
Under Mr. Baker's leadership, CBF has received numerous awards including the 1992 Presidential Medal for Environmental Excellence, the nation's highest environmental honor, in recognition of CBF's Environmental Education Program that has served 1,500,000 people through 15 study centers.
Baker's commitment to the community extends even further than just the Bay and CBF; he is also a trustee of Johns Hopkins Medicine; a director of Brown Advisory, an emeritus Board Member of the Baltimore Community Foundation, a Director of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a member of the UMBC Board of Visitors, and an Honorary Member of The Garden Club of America.