Board Member Spotlight – Mary Laraia

Mary Laraia is a specialist in public policy, philanthropy, the environment and banking.  She has held executive management positions in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors, and received numerous honors for her leadership, creativity and management of programs in community and sustainable development. Known as an innovator in corporate management, she has headed compliance, community development, sustainability and philanthropic functions for three of the nation’s largest financial institutions.

She most recently served as the deputy general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois, and on the board of directors of Standard Bank and Trust Company of Illinois, and is on the advisory board of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She attended Northwestern and Loyola universities and was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. She has been honored with the Motorola/Crain’s Excellence in Public Service Award, was named one of “100 Women Making a Difference” by the Chicago Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business, was named to Northwestern University’s first Council of 100 top women graduates, and is a fellow of the British-American Project.

In her spare time, Mary volunteers at the Humane Society and loves making art, reading, cycling, and riding her horse, Copper.

Why are you a CVNM board member?

Someone once said to me that if we don’t take care of the plants on the planet nothing else can survive. It seems absurdly simple, but it affected me deeply and I decided to work to protect the environment.

What initially drew you to becoming involved with CVNM?

I got a mailing from CVNM and it was so informative and professional and compelling that I sent in a donation. I became more and more involved after that, and then joined the board.

What’s your favorite outdoor place or activity?

I love walking in nature, anywhere. I’ve studied the history of the conservation movement at the turn of the 20th century. Those leaders didn’t yet have the science to back them up, but they spoke about the power of nature—to provide calmness and wonder and peace. They knew that when they went into natural areas it made them feel better, think better, and find inspiration. Now we know the science of how nature affects our brains, and how important it is to be connected to the natural world.

Why do you enjoy that place or activity so much?

Nature is a tonic for me. No matter how bad I feel, I can go to a forest or mountain or nature preserve, and it will always have a magical effect on me. The poet Mary Oliver produced almost all of her beautiful verse while walking in the woods. I think I do my best thinking when walking in nature.

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