A Thank You and Best Wishes

Doug Larson at PEC’s headquarters office in Warrenton, Va. After 16 years at PEC, Doug is retiring this July.

The band has played its last song for the night and the crowd has started to leave. Congratulatory hugs and handshakes are an indication of another successful event. Doug Larson, PEC’s Vice President, rolls up his shirt sleeves and starts helping with the cleanup, all while he has a smile on his face and a little more enthusiasm about the future of PEC. This could be a scene from one of many events Doug has been involved with over the past sixteen years.

As Doug plans for his retirement in July, I reflect on what an honor it has been to work with him through the years. We all know Doug as hard-working, passionate, funny and fearless. We also know him as the man who wears the best crazy socks.

He has been my boss for the majority of his time at PEC, but most importantly, he has been my friend. He never asked staff to do anything that he wouldn’t do, always standing and working beside us to see an event or project through to the end. He always encouraged us to grow our interest and ideas into projects that may align with PEC’s mission, while igniting our excitement that we too are helping make a difference.

Before sitting down to write this article, I thought long and hard about what has impressed me about Doug over the years. Of course his ability to tackle high dollar campaigns is impressive, but that wasn’t it. It’s his ability to understand and recognize the need of future generations. His ability to work with his staff to bring programs to fruition that will have the staying power to help grow our next generation of environmental leaders.

For instance, former staff member Melissa Wiley was very enthusiastic about the ‘whole food’ movement taking place across the United States in 2006. She attended a conference in Atlanta where she heard about the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaigns. When she brought her enthusiasm back to PEC, Doug was eager to work with her to find like-minded supporters to help launch a Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter in our area. Ten years later, you can find nine Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout the state of Virginia. PEC is the regional coordinator of three of those chapters, and manages the statewide Buy Fresh Buy Local website.

Another example of when Doug helped a program come to fruition is when a phone call came into his office from a prospective donor, who asked if we offered anything that educated the next generation of environmental leaders. Doug discussed our internship program, but quickly realized the donor was looking for something more in depth. After working with the staff to devise a detailed proposal outlining curriculum, projects and fieldtrips—our nationally acclaimed Fellowship Program came to life. Ten years later, the program is still going strong and boasts more than 100 alumni—many working in significant environmental positions around the country.

There’s also the time that former board member Merrill Strange suggested to Doug that they meet with Ruth Stolk, Senior Program Liaison with the Smithsonian Conservation Biological Institute, and Susan Sherman, President of the Shenandoah National Park Trust, to discuss a collaborative effort between the three organizations. The Summer Safari, now in its sixth year, blossomed from that meeting, and it’s one of the most successful and lucrative events in the history of the three organizations. Doug, Ruth and Susan became the dynamic trio, pulling together a partnership that recognized each group’s shared conservation goal of protecting Virginia’s landscape.

While organizing hundreds of events, breathing life into new programs and building relationships between organizations and communities, Doug also embarked on a $30 million dollar capital campaign, raised funds to complete the renovation of our Warrenton headquarters and helped to negotiate an easement on 900 acres of rolling foothills, which is now home to The Clifton Institute.

In Doug’s last fundraising letter he wrote, “I read recently that many baby boomers facing retirement struggle to find meaning in the careers they are leaving behind. They look back and wonder if the time they spent has had real impact or if they made any lasting contributions. Fortunately for me that will not be an issue. I can look back over the time at PEC and feel that I have been part of an organization that has made a difference.”

As we all bid Doug farewell, I hope he knows how important he has been to the entire organization, and realizes the foundation he has helped to lay for future generations. We shall truly miss him, but we hope the next leg of his journey will be met with much deserved rest and relaxation. I know that he and his wife Liza are looking forward to traveling. Whether he chooses to sit on a beach in Mexico sipping a martini or taking a lazy cruise down the Blue Danube, I hope he embraces it with the same zest he has brought to PEC—and that he will be doing it all in his signature crazy socks.

This article was featured in our Summer 2016 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.