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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tribute to the late, great Ann Masters

Thanks for taking the time to read this article I had the good fortune of writing about a most remarkable woman and environmental leader, Ann Masters. Ann passed away Friday, December 18th, 2009 and she will be dearly missed. This is my first blog post, and I hope it's a fitting tribute to the late, great Ann Masters.

Profile: Ann Masters

I first met Ann Masters at a women’s environmental leadership Conference in 1995. She delivered a moving speech about the future of Roanoke Valley’s environment and I came away with a much deeper understanding of the responsibility we each have to help conserve and protect the beautiful resources we enjoy everyday. The message indelibly etched in my memory is that the Valley’s mountains, rivers and wildlife have been entrusted to us and we must in turn protect these precious resources for the sake of future generations.

For this aspiring writer and environmentalist, the strength of Ann’s message and the grace of her delivery were inspirational. I recall hoping that I would one day achieve a fraction of the confidence in public speaking that she displayed. Ironically, when I recount this experience to Ann years later, she reveals, “I remember I was terrified that day!”

Ann tells me that her passion for the environment began early in life. She often spent her summer vacations on her grandfather’s farm in Huddleston picking fruit, harvesting potatoes, and caring for horses. She remembers with fondness the quaint yet effective method of brushing her teeth with Sassafras twigs and how they could clean the whole house spotless with simple cleaners like baking soda and rubbing alcohol. Through the many and varied lessons on the farm, Ann learned about living close to the earth. Those were precious learning experiences, she says, that most modern children don’t have. Today’s kids, she quips, “think farm animals are exotics.”

Ann has two grown daughters and five (“bright and beautiful”) grandchildren (or “grands” as she calls them). She suggests that parents engage their children in nature by having them help tend a backyard “kitchen garden” or pitch in to harvest berries or fruit. Her experience has been that children will more readily eat vegetables that they have pulled from the ground with their own two hands.

Masters has spent her life here in the Roanoke Valley, where she has enjoyed what she terms a “checkered career.” After teaching kindergarten class at Raleigh Court United Methodist Church for five years, Ann settled into what became a sixteen year career at the Art Museum of Western Virginia (then known as the Roanoke Museum of Fine Arts.) Ann oversaw the design of the galleries and installation of the artwork collection when the museum was moved to the Center in the Square in 1983. She coordinated various museum events, handled publicity and even assisted with disaster recovery after the flood of ’85 sent the Roanoke River winding through the museum’s galleries.

Ann has served in her current capacity as Executive Director of the Clean Valley Council (CVC) since 1994. Her work at the CVC consists primarily of promoting recycling, litter prevention and proper disposal of household hazardous waste. She also organizes and oversees Clean Valley Day, which is April 5th this year, and the Fall Waterway Cleanup Day. During both events, volunteers from all over the Valley pitch in to pick up trash. Clean Valley Day offers volunteers a “surf or turf” option - some clean up along waterways while others may choose a favorite park or a particularly disheveled stretch of roadside. The local Orvis store, known for their fly-fishing gear, is one of the newest and most particularly well suited sponsors of the event.

Masters is a Renaissance woman of community service. The many volunteer positions she has held include Executive Committee member of the Virginia Council of Litter Prevention and Recycling for over a decade, Festival in the Park Board of Directors for 12 years, and active membership with the Junior League for nearly 12 years. She says that every position she’s held has been a “different piece of fabric in the tapestry of my life.” The common thread woven deeply in the cloth is a “passion for conservation and preservation.”

Litter is one of Master’s biggest pet peeves (and don’t get her started about those wayward cigarette butts). She recalls, “I used to lean out of the car [at litterbugs] and yell ‘Hey - you dropped something!’” However, after a few unpleasant run-ins with some particularly hostile trashmongers, she chose to abandon the confrontational approach. She maintains, though, that far fewer people would litter if they were required to participate in roadside and waterway cleanups. I wholeheartedly agree that spending a day stooping to pick up trash with one gloved hand while toting a big orange bag with the other is enough to convince anyone that littering is just stupid. Masters laments that there are still people (adolescent boys are statistically the worst offenders) who dump their ashtrays and purge trash from their vehicles onto roads and parking lots instead of into a trashcan. “Who,” she asks rhetorically, “believes that their vehicle should be cleaner than the Earth?”

One of her professional inspirations is local architect Tom Cain. Tom has devoted a great portion of his life studying and communicating about ways to make the Roanoke Valley a safer, cleaner and more sustainable place to live and work. She feels that his ideas are visionary and that the Valley would benefit from more civic leaders like Cain. One of his pet dreams that she is particularly keen on is the revitalization of a post-civil war home across from Jackson Park in southeast Roanoke City. Cain says, “The site boasts a “buena vista,” or beautiful view, of the mountains; and Cain maintains the site would make a wonderful a private restaurant. Another project she believes worthwhile is the revitalization of the old Patrick Henry Hotel. She and I lamented that the grand old lady is now owned by a company in New York that has shown little interest in, or ability to, restore her to her past glory.

Masters particularly enjoys her office in the fabulously rehabilitated Jefferson Center. “I walked these halls in my penny loafers” in its heyday as Jefferson High School and she has even been discovered by old classmates passing through to visit the building. The vista outside of her window consists of a beautiful centenarian tree and a long view of Tinker mountain.

In her free time, Ann likes spending time with her family, honing her photography skills and curling up with a good book. One of her favorite authors is Dan Botkin, one of the first writers of environmental high school texts and a self-proclaimed “renegade naturalist.” She also likes checking in with Black Dog Salvage’s web log “Dog Tales,” which features owner Mike Whiteside and his famous mutts in tales of adventures in salvage.

Ann is personally inspired by, and has spoken about, a movement called “Creation Care,” which brings together people who worship and honor the Creator in order to seek to cherish and care for the creation. The program helps teach congregations and individuals what they can do to reduce their use of natural resources and lighten their ecological footprint.

“I have had a good life with marvelous family, friends and fun,” she concludes. And while her position as Executive Director of the Clean Valley Council is “the best job I’ve ever had,” Ann’s true goal in life is to work herself out of a job. “I would love to close the doors on the CVC, because that would mean that Roanoke is clean, pristine and healthy and that it’s going to stay that way.” She reflects “I hope my work has made a difference in the environment. I know the work has made a change in me.”

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks Tracy. I remember when your article came out, I was sitting in her car reading it. She was a wonderful woman and a better Mommy. ~ Helen Masters Durham "Sam"