A Conservation Ethic — A Profile of Marie Ridder

To say that Marie Ridder, 88, is an accomplished woman is an understatement—and as I drove to meet her for our interview, I was both excited and nervous. Marie has been a highly successful journalist and editor who would later devote her career to social and environmental issues.

She worked for Lady Bird Johnson in the ‘60s as her liaison to White House poverty programs, and became the deputy director of Head Start. Marie also worked for the Department of the Interior and was appointed to Secretary of the National Parks Advisory Board. She serves or has served in numerous conservation organizations, including the Virginia State Parks Commission, the Virginia Council on the Environment, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and PEC. She helped acquire the first state park on VA’s Eastern Shore at Kiptopeke, and spearheaded funding for important studies of migratory bird patterns to prioritize land conservation. Marie also chose to permanently protect her own land, and she was one of the first conservation easement donors in VA.

At the end of the day, Marie gives a substantial part of her life’s work to the conservation movement—particularly in Virginia. Yet, when I asked her during our interview if she is hopeful for the future of the environmental conservation movement, she said: “Frankly, no—not really. I think the world has increasingly too many people. I don’t think there’s much hope, and I’m sorry for my grandchildren.”

As a young environmentalist myself, this response was somewhat bewildering. You see, I had already formed this story in my mind prior to our interview: a veteran conservationist bestowing words of wisdom and hope onto the next generation of environmentalists—onto me. This response did not fit into the story I had hoped to write, and so I tried to again. I pointed out that she must have some hope because she has given so much to the conservation movement over the decades. Why would she keep working if she didn’t have much hope?

“Well,” Marie explained, “Because someone has to fight—someone has to try. If we don’t the world will get darker every second. We have to keep trying.”

Driving away from our interview, I thought about Marie’s words, and I began to see an almost epic heroism in them. Here is a woman who has worked in the environmental movement for decades; who sees the grim state of things today and has little hope for the future. Yet, despite all of this, she continues to work and fight for something better for the coming generations because she believes it is the right and only thing to do.

What Marie may not realize is that the important work that she and her colleagues have accomplished has laid the path for, and even created, the environmentalists of today and tomorrow. The natural and wild places that they have protected for future generations—these are the places where environmentalists like myself are born. My time as a child in Tennessee spent in the mountains, woods, and streams is what made me realize the importance of the natural world and the pressing need to protect it.

So, I would like to thank Marie and all of those who have dedicated their lives to conservation. Despite the odds, you have helped protect many of our wild places so that my generation could experience them, fall in love with them, and grow to stand by you in the fight to protect them.

This article was featured in our Summer 2013 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.