When I put together the first board of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin the first person I asked to serve was Emily Earley. Formidable is the best way to describe her. Other good words are blunt, outspoken, tough, but also kind, caring, warm.
I got to know Emily when she was on the board of the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and I was that organization’s Government Relations Director. Emily was revered by the other board members (ok, maybe feared is a better word) and by the staff (ok, maybe loved is a better word), especially by the women staff members, who I believe saw her as a role model.
She was the perfect board member. She put the organization and its mission and interests above her own ego or agenda. She could cut down a pontificating board member with a powerful rhetorical punch. She supported and mentored staff without meddling. And she raised money. Boy, could she raise money. She had no patience for arm chair environmentalists with cash to spare. By her example and by her demands she made them put resources behind their words. I suppose there might have been somebody who could say no to Emily Earley, but I never met him.
So, as I started to put 1000 Friends together and I was thinking about what kinds of people I wanted to recruit for the board Emily was first on my list, but not just because she could raise money and she understood the proper role of a board member. She was at the top of my list because I wanted the organization to reflect her spirit: fearless and determined, but also intelligent and open to new ideas, intolerant of nothing except insincerity. And, I’m happy to say that that’s the organization we got and still have today.
It says something about the special relationship between Emily and 1000 Friends that she asked that memorial contributions in her name be made to us. Still the fundraiser and the good board member even after her passing. Somebody once said that any organization carries with it the DNA of its founders. I believe that and, so, Emily lives on very literally in us.
Emily Hornblower Earley