Isabel Wade, a lifelong San Francisco resident, founded the Neighborhood Parks Council in 1996 and led the nonprofit until her retirement earlier this year. She tells us about the people, places and things that have inspired and influenced her.
Who has had the biggest impression on you in your life?
One of the main forces in my life was Margaret Meade. She was such an amazing intellect, but she realized that the environment was such an important part of how we were going to live on the planet. I had the fortune of meeting her in the late ’70s through her work with a nonprofit that was a watchdog at the U.N.
What book or piece of writing has had the biggest impact on you?
I loved Edward Albee’s “Desert Solitaire.” I think it’s an outstanding and moving piece of work about the environment both as an observer and as an activist.
What is the golden rule by which you live?
Make it work!
To where or to whom do you turn to in dark times?
Where do you find inspiration?
In nature. I must say I’m very plant-oriented and I can feel like I’m on a major trip smelling herbs or looking at flowers. It’s my temple, my contemplation, my connection to the Earth.
What’s something about you that people would find surprising?
That I’m an avid observer of art. That’s another part of my life where I find inspiration. I also know how to drive a Bobcat, a little bulldozer. When we had the Zoo Doo compost project, I needed to learn how to drive the Bobcat.
What would you want most to hear your colleagues say about you?
That I was effective. It’s all about having an impact.
What led you to do the kind of work you do?
Living in a very polluted city in 1970 — in Tokyo, Japan — realizing that we’d all end up that way if no one got involved. It was the first year of Earth Day that made me an activist. I was in Japan working on a master’s at a university there.
What’s your favorite park or open space?
Buena Vista Park, because I’ve lived across from it for 52 years. I grew up here. I live in the house I grew up in. It’s an amazing and beautiful park. It’s such a part of my life. You can go in and feel a part of nature.
How do you see your role in the world?
I guess in some ways I’m very pessimistic about the future of the planet, but I’m essentially a pretty optimistic person and think that people should be involved in solving problems. My goal is that I can do things locally that will have large repercussions in the world.