Remembering Our Former Executive Director
NVCT’s staff and board are saddened to announce that Peggy Stevens, our executive director from 2013 to 2017, passed away on June 24th following a courageous, year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Peggy led NVCT through a challenging transition in our organization’s past and was a true champion for saving nearby nature in the Northern Virginia region.
She was passionate, confident, and competent in everything she did while always smiling and making people laugh with her wonderful sense of humor. An obituary for Peggy will be included in our next newsletter as soon as it is finalized. Below are just a few of the remembrances and stories that exemplify what Peggy meant to our NVCT family. She will truly be missed, but we were blessed to have been able to call her colleague, mentor, friend, and leader.
Ranjit Singh, NVCT Board Chair
At heart, conservation is an ethics-driven field. Whenever the NVCT crew comes together, we do so because we share the ethos of protecting land for all people and other living things. Peggy Stevens’ life personified that ethos.
Peggy was Executive Director when I first came on the board in 2014. Her legacy with the Trust really cannot be measured. Every organization goes through challenging times, and Peggy’s role was to get things where they needed to be to realize our ambitions. She was a godsend. As busy as she was hiring staff and making smart decisions, what always stood out to me – the conservation newbie – was her integrity and the obvious joy she brought to her work with NVCT. Peggy was wonderful, and she laughed a lot. She clearly enjoyed helping groups like ours that aligned with her very strongly held values. And Peggy was a true conservationist from head to toe and back again. She traveled the world to see birds and flowers. Her later work leading Virginia United Land Trusts, hosteling, and Girl Scout groups fit the pattern of her generous, talented life: always offering her formidable skills to help others get to where they want to be.
The Trust’s current vitality owes much to Peggy’s incredible leadership. Peggy lived her values. I learned a lot from her about making work meaningful, and I’m extremely grateful to have called her friend. We send our love to Jonathan, her devoted husband of nearly 50 years.
Rich Bliss, NVCT Founder
In 2013 NVCT was looking for a new Executive Director. The usual internet tools were put into use, including inquiries on the websites of major land conservation organizations nationwide. A fair number of responses were received, but none seemed to fit the bill perfectly. We preferred a “local” with knowledge of our terrain, residents, and politics.
And then along came Peggy. The problem was she wasn’t from our “hood”. Well, she had some serious credentials so we decided to take a look.
Her interview brought surprise, maybe even shock. Not only did she express serious interest in working to save the environment around the nation’s capital, she had a fair amount of knowledge about our region, land conservation, and a personality that fit right into our notion about a collegial approach to working with a board and managing a staff. She made a convincing case that a positive outlook and professional effort could find solutions in the darkest of corners.
Within a few months, Peggy had found a highly qualified staff, helped to restructure the organization, gotten to know many of our political and business associates, and plunged into the role of primary locator of potential land conservation opportunities around our region. She brought a sigh of relief to all who were seriously engaged with NVCT.
We bless the day we found each other. May she rest in peace in that other paradise.
Alan Rowsome, NVCT Executive Director
When I arrived at NVCT in early September 2017, there was Peggy, greeting me warmly and already invested in my success. Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, the fact that she onboarded me herself, told me what to look out for, and handed me a playbook for success, was above and beyond the call of duty. She could have easily transitioned into her well-deserved retirement and left our board and staff to handle my orientation, but that just wasn’t her. I quickly came to realize that Peggy was handing me the keys to an organization that she had personally willed back into relevance through a focus on internal governance, simplifying organizational procedures, and a rebuilding of relationships with partners, elected officials, and county governments.
Over the intervening years, I’m proud to say that Peggy and I became true friends and colleagues, and I very much valued her wise counsel and institutional memory. She cared deeply about NVCT’s success, asked often about the employees she had hired, and wanted to know whether we were making progress with conservation prospects she had worked on. Even in her last weeks when she knew the end was near, we had several opportunities to chat about the future of land conservation in Virginia and ways NVCT could grow and make a difference. Her fire never waned.
NVCT organizationally, and I personally owe Peggy an enormous debt of gratitude. The success we are having saving nearby nature in Virginia today is due to the foundation she built, and it is an honor to continue her legacy.
Our entire NVCT family sends Jonathan, Peggy’s husband of nearly 50 years, and their family our sincere thanks for sharing Peggy with us and, in doing so, allowing us to benefit in so many ways from having her in our lives.
Gary Kirkbride, past NVCT Board Chair
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust will forever be indebted to Peggy for her leadership, enthusiasm, and contribution to creating an exemplary land trust. At a time when the Trust was faced with several organizational issues, she provided clear and focused leadership to create a dynamic, unified staff that continued the tradition of “saving nearby nature”. The Trust is saddened by her early departure from these efforts but we will always be mindful and grateful for her optimism and enthusiasm in the face of major challenges. She set a wonderful example for all of us to follow.
Nancy Hyde, past NVCT Board Vice Chair
I was one of a committee that hired Peggy as NVCT’s Executive Director after a period in the Trust’s history in which it could have gone out of existence. She arrived a month after we hired her, and by that time, all the staff had left. She would have been justified if she had refused to accept the position and high-tailed it back to New England.
Instead, she took the opportunity to hire a staff of her choosing, three of whom remain with the Trust today.
During the four years she served as Executive Director, NVCT retained its funding from three local governments, regained its strength, and built substantial credibility in the Virginia land trust community because of Peggy’s leadership in the statewide organization. After she retired from NVCT, she continued to serve as Chair of Virginia’s United Land Trusts (VaULT), stepping down only after she was diagnosed with cancer.
And those are only her professional triumphs. Many professional colleagues became close personal friends and mentees as well, as evidenced by the outpourings of love and gratitude on her CaringBridge site.
Peggy’s presence and persistence, with grace and humor, in trying circumstances, will be long remembered.
Susan Smith Blakely, NVCT Board
Peggy was a force of nature. That description, unfortunately, has seeped into our vernacular too easily and is usually hyperbole. In the case of Peggy Stevens, it was not. She was a force, and she was all about nature. Not just conserving land and protecting our planet for the generations to come, but also about protecting opportunities for people to work in the conservation space. She nurtured the young people who came into our organization and mentored them into fine young professionals. It was my great pleasure to talk with Peggy about the progress her young hires have made when I sat with her on the deck of her home only weeks before she died. She was delighted.
Peggy’s interface with landowners and other devoted conservation advocates was like magic. Her smile and her laugh were infectious, and supporters fell into place because they trusted her to do the right thing. She was completely devoted to her work with the conservation communities in our region and beyond, and she continued to serve on boards and committees until the end. Giving up on the work she loved was not an option for Peggy.
Peggy’s legacy lives on in NVCT, and the foundation that Peggy built there is apparent every day. It is there in how we define our mission, and it is there in how we conduct our business. We owe so much to Peggy.
Tom Van Blaricom, NVCT Board
Peggy was that rare individual whose passion for conservation was exceeded only by her competence in getting it done. Her contributions will benefit people for generations to come.
Daniel Saltzberg, NVCT Stewardship Specialist
I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Peggy’s passing. Peggy hired Rentz Hilyer and I on to the stewardship team at the same time. She was so helpful to me as a mentor in starting my career in conservation work at NVCT and always made time for everyone. She trusted everyone on the team (myself included) with key organizational responsibilities regardless of title or role. Peggy will be sorely missed.
Rentz Hilyer, NVCT Land Conservation Specialist
I feel grateful and fortunate to have known Peggy. I had the utmost respect and admiration for her. She was an inspiring role model – competent, energetic, enthusiastic, and gracious. I learned a great deal from Peggy about effective leadership, nonprofit management, the business of land conservation, as well as compassion and kindness. She will be missed.