Board Member Spotlight: Andy Field
“After self-quarantining for two months, I bore the living daylights out of myself and can’t imagine anyone else wanting to hear what I might have to say.” This was the first thing Andy told me when I called her to interview her for this month’s Board Member spotlight. I said I was sure she had an interesting story and I was correct.
Andy grew up in Connecticut and went to college in New England, starting at Wellesley College and then transferring to Yale in the fall of 1969 when women were first admitted to Yale College. To attend law school, she headed south, getting her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Since then, Andy has practiced environmental law with one firm for her entire professional career. She says, “I continue to refer to it as ‘Hunton & Williams’ even though the firm name has changed several times since I began working there in 1974.” Since starting her legal practice, she has lived in the Bay watershed – in Richmond, D.C, and now Old Town Alexandria.
In addition to practicing law for over 40 years, Andy has been active in professional organizations. In 1989, she became the first woman to lead the American Bar Association’s environmental law section. And currently, Andy serves as President of the American College of Environmental Lawyers, a professional association formed in 2007 and made up of lawyers who are preeminent in the practice of environmental law. College members are dedicated to maintaining and improving the ethical practice of environmental law. The group now has approximately 300 active members from virtually every state in the country and the District of Columbia. “It’s an amazing group of talented environmental lawyers,” Andy told me. “Some people may have to resort to services like LinkedIn to find folks with particular environmental law expertise in different parts of the country. I can turn to the directory of the American College of Environmental Lawyers.” Andy will be stepping down as President of the College in October, just a few months before she is scheduled to become the newly elected Chair of the Board of the Directors of the Alliance on January 1, 2021.
Andy first got involved with the Alliance while serving as the managing partner of her firm’s Washington, D.C. office. A young lawyer in her practice group asked if he could use one of the firm’s conference rooms to host a meeting of a volunteer organization. That organization was the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). In explaining what the Citizen’s Advisory Committee was, her colleague mentioned – and extolled the virtues of – the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “I asked him to tell me more about the Alliance, which he happily did, explaining to me the Alliance’s mission of building partnerships to get things done now and to anticipate what would need to be done in the future. Significantly, he told me that the Alliance didn’t devote its time and resources to litigating matters. Even though I’m a lawyer, I have never been interested in being affiliated with volunteer Boards that devote time and resources to litigation that goes on for years on end. I was, though, attracted to the idea of working with a boots-on-the-ground organization that daily produces tangible benefits for multiple communities.” After learning more about the Alliance, Andy met with Al Todd, the Alliance’s immediate past Executive Director, and she was eventually asked to be on the Alliance’s Board of Directors. She officially joined the Board in January 2015.
I asked Andy what the Alliance means to her and she explained that it starts with her connection with water.
“If I want to feel great peace and tranquility, I have always sought out water. In Connecticut, it was Lake Oxoboxo, the waters of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. In Virginia, it has been the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. When my two sons were young and life was hectic, my husband (trained to sail at age 5 by Annapolis legend Dr. Stuart Walker), the boys and I would go sailing on the Bay. We’d go out Friday afternoon and come back Sunday. The beauty and serenity of two days sailing the Bay would send me back to work on Mondays as refreshed as if I’d gone on a 2-week vacation anywhere else. The Bay has, from the first, had that effect on me.”
Being an environmental lawyer, Andy had been aware of the challenges faced by the Bay, but spending more time in the area, she saw those challenges personally. “You can’t spend time in the area without noticing differences in the water quality, seeing threats to spawning grounds, being told not to put our crab pots out because of shortages of females.” Andy explained that “having received so much from the Bay, I wanted to play a more direct role in the work that needs to be done to improve Bay health. And the Alliance works in a way that suits me perfectly. The Alliance brings together different constituencies in different parts of the watershed to solve problems in ways that work for each such constituency.” Continuing to comment on the importance of collaboration and cooperation, Andy paid particular tribute to the Alliance’s Executive Director of the past three years, Kate Fritz. “Since Kate has come on board, I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed by her energy and enthusiasm. When she took the stage at the Watershed Forum last November, the greeting she got was nothing less than would have been given to a rock star. I know she’ll be embarrassed by my saying that, but it’s true.”
Again returning to the topic of what life is like during the pandemic, Andy said one of the few benefits of working full time from home is being able to take long walks in the mornings.
“For years I would take relatively short walks in the mornings or evenings, but now – with all the time I save in not having to commute to my office in D.C. – I can extend my morning walks. From my front door, I can walk in every direction and see something beautiful. I can walk north or south on the Mount Vernon Trail, and west towards the historic cemeteries from Civil War times. I can even walk east, across the Potomac, by taking the pedestrian path on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.”
But Andy no longer “just walks.” She now frequently brings with her several garbage bags and one of her “garbage grabbers,” which she purchased online when she noticed so much trash, particularly along parts of the Mount Vernon Trail. “The Park Service does a great job of picking up trash, but their folks can’t be out there every day, and it seems as if the pandemic has added lots of masks and gloves to the normal trash, like bottles, cans, and paper wrappers.” On the day we spoke, Andy had walked south, picking up trash from one side of the Mount Vernon Trail on a three-mile trek past Dykes Marsh and picking up trash from the other side of the trail on the way back home. “As I fill up multiple trash bags each time I go out, I ask myself how people can be such slobs. But in a recent conversation with a professional trash collector – he with his truck, me with my garbage grabber – we decided that it was better to do something about the problem rather than just complain.”
Thinking that between her career and other work she had amassed some views on leadership, I asked Andy, “What does leadership mean to you?” She told me that the only thing she is certain about on that topic is that there is no one way to be – or be seen as – a leader.
“When I started law school, only 10% of the students in my class were women and we had no women professors. When I started practicing law, the firm’s leaders were all men. If I had had to tell you then what leadership looked like, I might have been forgiven if I said that it looked like a man about 6 feet tall, possibly possessing an undergraduate degree from VMI. I was never going to be that person. But over time, I realized that people have different strengths and can build on their personal strengths to become leaders. When I come into new situations, I don’t immediately jump in and try to take over. I prefer to take some time to learn about the situation and people involved. I like to listen and ask questions of everyone. In that way, I try to build trust, and often that opens the door to leadership opportunities. By the time that happens, I usually know what I’m dealing with and am in a position to lead.”
Finally, I asked Andy, as a strong female leader, if she had any advice for younger women just starting their careers. Her response was this”
“At this point in my life, I try to avoid giving advice. But I can share some of my experience and then hope that others can build on that – taking what makes sense for them and leaving the rest. I was ‘the first’ to do many things professionally. I was lucky in that way – lucky to have been in the right place at the right time in many instances. I think I took advantage of the opportunities that were given to me. But the opportunities I had back when so few other women had those opportunities also put a lot of pressure on me. I felt the need to be perfect lest any failure on my part in those early days lead my professors or supervisors to conclude that all women would fail. That’s really a pity, because I am now a firm believer in allowing people to learn by making mistakes and taking chances in figuring out what their interests and passions may be. I hope women will be brave enough to try different things, and if they find something they are really interested in, I hope they can work on that, develop it, make connections with people, and then take advantage of those opportunities that come their way. And if it then turns out that opportunity was just not the right thing, then I would urge them to get on to the next thing and don’t look back.”
I appreciate Andy’s accomplishments, whether it is leading a group of 300 environmental lawyers, or picking up trash along three miles of the Mount Vernon Trail, I continue to be amazed by Andy’s drive. I look forward to seeing how Andy’s leadership experiences and her love for the Chesapeake Bay will impact the future of the Alliance.