HONORING BOSTON’S LEGACIES
An Edited Transcript of a Conversation with
Boston Foundation Legacy Donor Wendy Shattuck for the
2017 Boston Foundation Annual Report:
The Problem Solvers
How a Group of Unusually Creative Philanthropists
Are Helping to Solve Some of Boston’s Big Problems
TBF: Tell us about the founding of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
WS: I was working as the public relations director of the Four Seasons when I met Justine Liff. [Note: Justine Mee Liff was the beloved Parks Commissioner for the City of Boston, who died in 2002.]
And of course, the Four Seasons is located on the Boston Public Garden—the oldest park in the country. We got together and decided that we would try to fill the old muddy pond with water and have skating in the winter.
So, we worked together to hold a fundraiser that raised enough money to make it happen. We never expected it to be so successful. But Justine brought in Mayor Menino and really inspired him to want to fix the pond. He loved Justine. He publicly said once that if Justine asked him to do something, he could never say “no.” She was so passionate and so knowledgeable and so smart.
So, when I retired from the Four Seasons, she asked me to join the board of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, which she had started as a public/private partnership. Governor Dukakis was one of the founding members. It was a very small board in the beginning with Genie Beal and a few others. It was a very small, working board.
After Justine died, I went to the board and asked if we could start a campaign in her honor to do all of the things that she really cared about, which was to restore and maintain this beautiful landscape. It had been so overlooked and so undernourished for so long. I know there are a lot of other pressing needs, but it’s so important for people to have a place to go where it’s safe and you can restore. It’s a very democratic concept: parks. Justine really understood that. She also knew that the park system would not really be supported unless we had a public/private partnership.
Many people think that public spaces should always be taken care of by the public sector, by the government. But when donors hear that it’s a public/private partnership, they are really impressed.
So, we started a fundraiser, the Party in the Park, which every year raises $1 million to benefit the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Olmsted’s historic park system. Next year [in 2018], our 15th Annual Party in the Park will be held on May 31st in Franklin Park, which is the largest of all the parks: at more than 500 acres in a park system of 1,100 acres. So, it’s the 15th anniversary of the Party in the Park and the 20th anniversary of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
By the way, I was inspired to do this luncheon because of Central Park. My mother had been very involved with the Central Park Conservancy. And Central Park has been doing a lunch there for at least 30 years. I went down to New York and studied the way they did the lunch there. Bill Cunningham always photographed that party.
TBF: It must be very satisfying to know that you are carrying on Justine’s legacy.
WS: Absolutely. She inspired me and so many others to move forward and protect this wonderful legacy we have. We want to keep Justine’s legacy alive. There are a lot of people involved in Party in the Park who don’t know who Justine was. But we named the endowment after her and every year we give an award in her name. This year, her daughter, Ursula, is going to chair that effort.
TBF: You and Sam [Sam Plimpton, Wendy’s husband], made a very generous legacy gift to the Boston Foundation.
WS: We felt that the Boston Foundation was a wonderful place to harbor our funds. We have a lot of trust in the Foundation and obviously we wouldn’t have made a gift like that to an organization we thought might go away. Like the Emerald Necklace, it will always be here.
TBF: It’s your legacy; just as the Emerald Necklace Conservancy is Justine’s legacy. Did you know the Visitor Center was going to be named after you?
WS: No, some friends of mine got together to celebrate my 50th birthday and raise funds to finish the gatehouse and turn it into a visitor center. It was very generous, kind and wonderful.