Year of the Woman: Marylou Barton
This month’s woman of the year blog features a tremendously fierce and passionate leader from Pennsylvania, Marylou Barton. Marylou’s career was activated by her two passions in life; children and mother nature. The former is where Marylou’s law career started, with the Pennsylvania Attorney General Office as a child prosecutor, and the latter is where Marylou spent the majority of her career as she served as counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PA DEP) Office of Chief Counsel for the Safe Drinking Water Program where she fought for cleaner water for Pennsylvania for over twenty years. In this role, Marylou wrote regulations, kept Pennsylvania aligned with federal rules, and litigated on issues involving sewage treatment plants, pollution prevention, drinking water, and much more.
Reflecting on the last couple of decades, Marylou believes that much progress has been made via the Air Quality Control Act and Clean Streams Law but sees room for continued enforcement of these laws. She also sees significant opportunity in change from the private sector. Marylou expressed, “I think private enterprise and business have taken big steps to set things right and I hope consumers continue to put more pressure on private enterprise. We can speak out with our pocketbook and make them feel in their pocket books.”
Marylou’s career and personal life reflected the importance of working together and finding shared goals. While she savored her time with family as her first priority, she also stayed connected to community, friends, and colleagues. Her dedication to mother nature included hours of volunteer service with local nonprofits. One of her fondest memories was helping to form a small core group out of Manheim Township called HabitatMT with focus on native plants and wildlife habitat restoration at the park and for the community. It has grown into what today is known as the Native Plant and Wildlife Festival at Overlook Park in Manheim Township.
When asked about female role models in her life, Marylou mentioned the League of Women Voters, which had an incredible impact on Marylou’s life. Their commitment to women’s issues inspired and motivated her to pursue her passions. Additionally, one of the most powerful role models she had was another single mother of two who was able to make it through law school. They became lifelong friends who share an understanding that leadership goals are worth pursuing in life regardless of any perceived barriers. Inspired by the encouragement Marylou had received, at the age of 29 with a Bachelors degree and three young children, she pursued her law degree. To this day she is forever grateful for her dear friend and the League of Women Voters. They led by example and were her greatest mentors in pursuit of a successful and long career serving in the community.
Marylou also shared her admiration for Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Cindy Adams Dunn, who created the Alliance’s Pennsylvania Office. Marylou shared that Secretary Dunn is a “role model for all of us and has always led the way quietly and graciously and through listening. Her passion is always there and she can just rely on herself ‒ no politics. She’s an amazing gift.”
Following Marylou’s retirement from PA DEP, she was hired by Hartman, Underhill and Brubaker, (HUB) a law firm in Lancaster County to focus on environmental work locally. As Marylou worked in this position, she realized that though there was significant work being completed in Lancaster County, most organizations were operating in their own silos, lacking collaboration with one another. Marylou created Lancaster County’s first ever collaborative entity, the Lancaster Clean Water Consortium. Marylou estimates HUB allowed her to put almost $400,000 of pro bono work into the creation of the Consortium. The Consortium is still active today and supports collaboration between Lancaster County municipalities.
It was an honor talking to Marylou and learning more about her passions, as well as her influence as a powerful female leader. When asked what her advice would be for young women starting out their careers, Marylou said, “Always follow your heart, as well as your passions and be your best self!” She also emphasized the importance of building allies, “women or men who you can trust and with whom you can share about your life and career experiences.” Marylou offered the advice that it isn’t always easy, she suggested being prepared for challenges including discrimination and to always be prepared for the unexpected.
This blog was co-written by Jenna Mitchell, Pennsylvania State Director, and Lydia Martin, Green Infrastructure Coordinator.