The Four Rivers Region has lost an important champion of conservation, but her legacy lives on. Maggie Morgan died unexpectedly on January 24th. The tremendous outpouring of support by friends, family and coworkers at her funeral was a testament of her amazing impact.
Maggie received her B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences from Murray State, working in the microbiology lab of Dr. Tim Johnston. She started as an intern for the Jackson Purchase Foundation (JPF) in 2008 and quickly moved her way up, taking on more and more duties, both within JPF and beyond.
Her responsibilities included being Co-Chair of the Kentucky Watershed Watch program, Four Rivers Basin Coordinator, and leading the Four Rivers Watershed Watch. And in these roles, Maggie’s conservation vision blossomed. Some of her projects directly affected our watersheds, while others were aimed at environmental education. But all of her efforts have helped improve our environment, the water we drink, and the rivers and lakes that we recreate on.
Programs she helped lead included the Obion River restoration, WHO Festival, Four Rivers Watershed Sustainability Festival, Clark’s River Family Float Day, Stormwater Quality Field Day, Clean Stream Team, Ohio River Sweep, Watershed Conservation and Rain Barrel Workshops, creating new boat ramps on Clark’s River, numerous rain gardens, and acting as a technical advisor for conservation plans.
Yet no matter how busy she was organizing these projects, she was always thinking about how to better educate people. As Rhonda Lamb from JPF noted, “She had a way about her that would want to make you learn more about water quality. She never stopped and never grew tired of teaching water quality”. Countless numbers of children and adults have been impacted by Maggie’s message.
Because of her tremendous impact, last year she received the Robert A. Lauderdale Award for Outstanding Contributions in Water Quality by the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute. Such awards are often given at the twilight of a career, yet Maggie had worked so hard—and so effectively—to promote water quality that conservation leaders and resource managers throughout the state bestowed this honor upon her after a decade of service to the Commonwealth.
Kevin Murphy, President of JPF, perhaps said it best: “Maggie always completed every job no matter how trivial or complicated to the highest degree with a smile on her face. She jumped in and saved the day where others bailed out or just got tired of paddling against life’s struggles and storms. Maggie was the Captain for common sense water quality and environmental projects across Kentucky but especially in western Kentucky. Everyone that knew her was proud to serve and follow her. Kentucky will miss her.”
And when you lose someone like that, you don’t get over it. There is a hole in western Kentucky that cannot be filled. Many will pitch in to make things work, but Maggie had created her conservation network organically, and that success cannot be easily replicated.
Our hearts ache at the loss of our Captain and friend. Our hearts ache for her husband Ryan, and her son, Will, who loved going on adventures with her. But our hearts also glow with admiration for the many benefits we enjoy because of Maggie’s work. We often take for granted the important people in our lives, and many of us know that we will never be able to replace what she did for us, and our environment. Perhaps one lesson from her untimely death is thanking people every day for what they do, ensuring they understand how special they are to us. I certainly wish that I had another chance to thank Maggie.
Maggie’s legacy is not only what she accomplished directly, but also what she set into motion, as there are numerous projects that will continue for decades. And perhaps part of her legacy should be what we all need to do—now—to keep that conservation success going. We cannot wait for the next Maggie, as there surely will never be anyone just like her. But if we all step forward and do our part to help protect and preserve the environment, each of us might channel the spirit, the smile, and the determination of Maggie Morgan.