|Rather than pass the baton, Russell Libby passed the braided leek to Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s interim executive director.
By Heather Spalding
MOFGA Interim Executive Director
MOFGA really knows how to throw a party! On November 1, 2012, hundreds of us gathered in the Exhibition Hall for a pie social in honor of our esteemed, brilliant, honorable and much-loved leader, Russell Libby. Friends and staff brought dozens of sumptuous pies, words of love and reverence, smiles, tears, laughter and a lot of inspiration. MOFGA board president Barbara Damrosch thanked Russell for his years of service, highlighting a few of his major accomplishments and honoring him with a “40 Carrot Genius Award.” Artist Robert Shetterly unveiled his exquisite portrait of Russell – the latest is his collection of Americans Who Tell The Truth. State Senator Tom Saviello and Representative Denny Keschl presented to Russell a Sentiment from the Maine Legislature. And Russell’s dear friend and long-time MOFGA board member John Bunker read an old and beautiful farm poem, which he transcribed onto a giant thank you card signed by the crowd. I had the honor of singing Russell’s praises from the perspective of one who has worked at his side for many years, who is honored to serve as interim director, and is filled with optimism about MOFGA’s future. Here are the comments I shared with pie social attendees…
I’m so happy that the Libby family could be here today. Russell’s parents, Ron and Sandra – thank you for making Russell! He is a treasure to all of us and we are grateful for your contribution! Mary Anne – thank you so much for your support, your wisdom, your compassion and your patience. You have contributed to all of Russell’s accomplishments in such a humble, loving and graceful manner and I want you to know how much we all appreciate and celebrate you too! Thank you! And, of course, it has been so much fun watching the Libby daughters grow into the amazing women that they are now. Congratulations to Anna, Maisie and Rosa! We in the office know the pride that Russell has in you three. There’s no doubt that the joy you bring to him on a daily basis has kept him going at such a strong and steady pace.
What is it like to work for Russell? In late 1996, Russell and Susan Pierce offered me a job to help with the Fair. I had a pretty exciting job with Greenpeace in D.C. at the time, but I had wanted to move back to Maine. I remember talking about the possible transition with my dear friend Ellen Tipper. We had just read a feature article about Russell and MOFGA in the Maine Times. Ellen noted that the photos portrayed a man with great wisdom, a gentle nature and kind eyes. “I bet he’d be a GREAT boss!” she said. That Maine Times picture was definitely worth a thousand words.
Russell is a wonderful boss. He approaches supervision gently, with respect and patience. He leads by example. He’s willing to pitch in with anything and to share his wisdom with anyone. He inspires us to keep moving forward – in good times and difficult. He challenges us to get involved in substantive ways. And he deputizes us to embrace new ideas and run with them. Russell has a great sense of humor, which never comes at the expense of another. He is kind, calm and reassuring.
I’d like to elaborate on the willingness part. He really will do anything to help and always thinks of others’ needs first. I remember the first Fair here in Unity, when systems were breaking down left and right. Russell was directing traffic, selling tickets, calming down the deputies and angry fairgoers, and plunging toilets, all while thousands of his friends and colleagues wanted his ear to make suggestions about the new digs. That was a rough experience. Even Paul Volckhausen wasn’t smiling at times. But Russell remained calm, creative and reassuring. His performance at that Fair wasn’t unusual. It is his way. Whether he is taking an overnight train to D.C. to talk sense into the Congressional Committee on Agriculture, or picking up post-Fair trash on the fairgrounds, Russell always wants to help.
We have worked together for 15 years, most of them side by side. We’re in touch several times every day, even on weekends, when things are great and when they are really challenging, when we have lots of financial support streaming in and when we are tight on cash, when we are feeling rested and ready for a hike, and when we are struggling with a nasty illness.
Russell is a dear friend too. Despite the endless hours working together, we don’t get sick of each other. At least not often. ☺ He always finds time to talk about family and friends. He and my husband, Will, have fun talking birds, statistics and politics. He corresponds regularly with our kids, and never misses a birthday. He’s even come to their soccer games! What a boss!
Tomorrow Russell is passing the reins to me. Wow! This is an amazing honor, even if only for an interim. You can imagine the thoughts running through my mind. How can I begin to fill Russell’s shoes? How will I ever learn, much less remember, the birthdays of the nieces and nephews of MOFGA’s donors on Isle au Haut? How will I keep track of the hundreds of Quickbooks accounts? Who will hold the infants at board meetings? Could I ever hope to have again such a comfortable, rewarding and productive professional partnership?
I hope not to convey diffidence. Truly, I have great assurance that MOFGA will continue to thrive, prosper, and inspire the great agricultural transformation that is happening in Maine and across the country. I am excited about new challenges and so grateful to Russell for focusing more heavily on the policy issues that we face at state, regional and national levels.
I know Russell is always just a phone call or flight of stairs away – ready and more than willing to break apart any problem and come up with a creative solution. He is there for all of us. He has planted his seeds in all of us, and he has lovingly tended those seeds for almost three decades. Those seeds got a really good lease on life.
MOFGA is a collective of talented leaders who take on huge responsibilities, whether as staff members, volunteers, farmers, gardeners, consumers or any number of other stakeholders. We have a lot of depth and we all make profound contributions to this organization every day. That is what makes us MOFGA.
Russell has fostered an open-door, peer-to-peer communication approach that allows people to come forth with new ideas and to find opportunities to test them. He has done this in such a brilliant, kind, loving manner. Let’s all move forward embracing this approach, and nurturing Russell’s legacy so that it carries on for many generations to come.
Thank you so much Russell. We love you!