Some posts are easy to write and some are difficult. This one is the most difficult that we have done, as it narrates a fundamental and indelible change in the essence of our organization. The news has been out for some time, but many may still be unaware that our policy director, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, has assumed a full time position with Sierra Club.
Such are the cycles of life, and nothing stays the same, but that doesn’t make it any easier to make the adjustment. OSFR is sad to see her leave, but also happy and proud that our most visible and active member has risen to the next level and can continue doing her work but with a much more solid base and with many more resources.
And get paid, and with benefits, a very sudden and drastic change from the totally volunteer infrastructure from which she has worked for many years, receiving plenty of appreciation and gratitude, but no remuneration.
Merrillee helped create Our Santa Fe River and she sustained it as its heart and soul for many years. People far and wide know her as their sole contact for OSFR. The water management districts, all the people in their make-up, executive directors, governing board members, water scientists, all are on a first name basis with her. She calls them, emails them, travels to them demanding meetings and explanations, buys maps and documents from them with her own money, and she drives them crazy.
The Columbia County officials are subjected to the same or worse. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection may be more extensive, but she has personal contacts with Drew Bartlett and many others. Our political representatives do not escape by any means. She is present at the delegation meetings in the districts, visits them in their offices in Tallahassee, and of those who happen to sit on a Legislative committee related to the environment, every single one of them knows her or knows very well who she is.
As policy director, Merrillee has been on the forefront of our group and she meets the public head-on. When we challenged an excessive water consumptive use permit, she was one the one who was personally sued. When a woman driving down I-75 found the water not working in the rest stop toilet, she called Merrillee. And when Paddle Florida needs a speaker at a stop-over in Dowling Park, or the community program directors in Cedar Key need someone, or the Friday Forum in Ocala, or the University of Florida needs a panel expert, they call her. And she never says no.
Not to mention the two latest crises: when people wake up one day and find a huge chicken factory being constructed across the road, or a phosphate mine in the works, and they have absolutely no idea what to do, or whom to call, they call Merrillee. She organizes meetings and launches the campaign and teaches them what to do.
And it is safe to say that the leaders of every single environmental group in the state and far beyond know or know of Merrillee. We could go on and on, talking about fracking ordinances, radio and TV interviews and such, but we will refer you to our “What we do” page.
So as we said, her departure leaves us sad but happy and proud, as we hold Sierra Club in the highest regard and view this as our President Pam Smith said, “an inevitable evolution” as competence, skills and excellence seek and will rise to its own levels. Her guidance, leadership and spirit which made OSFR a force will never be forgotten. Sierra Club has gained more than they know, but we too are strengthened as Merrillee will continue, stronger than ever in her new role, but forever a member of OSFR.
With gratitude and love, Merrillee, OSFR wishes you the very best on your new journey.