Thursday, August 31, 2017

Saving the Bay From the Beginning - Tides Blog

By Joan Abrams, major gifts officer

Shawen Williams can clearly remember when she first became aware of Save The Bay. As a child, her parents, Janice and Dudley Williams, sent her down to the rocks in front of their eastward-facing Bristol home in early spring to scrape the blobs of oil that had washed up on the shore from the oil tankers that travelled across Mt. Hope Bay to Fall River. The oil had to be removed before the weather warmed, lest it spread across the rocks and cause damage to the property and their pet dogs. “I recall my father telling our family that he’d heard that a group of people was coming together to help clean the water. Although I didn’t really understand what these Tiverton people were going to do, I know that my father was quite excited about this organization called Save The Bay,” she said.

After finishing college in 1983 and returning to Rhode Island, Shawen met London-born-and-raised Andrew MacKeith, when they were both spectators (rooting for opposing teams) of the infamous America’s Cup Race in Newport the year Australia upset the American team. The two avid sailors and swimmers married in 1986, settled permanently in Bristol near Shawen’s childhood home in 1991, and began to spend summers on the family property on Prudence Island’s west side.

Caring deeply about and supporting many of the environmental organizations protecting the land and waters of Rhode Island, the Williams-MacKeith family has been what they refer to as “modest yet consistent” Save The Bay donors for more than 40 years, particularly appreciating the fierce defense of the waters that mean so much to them. “I often credit Save The Bay with the increase in property values around the water’s edge in our state, since the Bay is not the cesspool it was when I was a child,” Shawen said. “No one really sought to live by the water around here back then, as we do today.”

On the other hand, she notes, a new threat to our local waters is the increasing presence of “sea plastic” on our beaches where “sea glass” used to be. “My son Arthur actually pointed this out to me when he was only about four years old, when I took him and [daughter] Hope for a sea glass hunt on Prudence. Hope was older and had the patience to sift for the glass, but Arthur saw the brightly colored plastic bits and decided to pick that up instead. At the end of the day, his bag was far fuller and more colorful than his sister’s. The plastic situation is so out of control,” Shawen said.

Seeing their own children develop an awareness of the precious environment around them is one of the family’s greatest points of pride, and why they are also enthusiastic supporters of Save The Bay’s education program, which provides Bay experiences for tens of thousands of schoolchildren and adults throughout the watershed. “Children learn by example and experiences,” declared Andrew, “and so we are very supportive of Save The Bay’s approach to offer a range of opportunities for children to be in, on and near the Bay.”

Having been exposed to Save The Bay and other forms of environmental activism by her father when she was a young child, Shawen shares the belief with Andrew, who was raised by his pediatrician father, Dr. Ronald C. MacKeith, to revere history, architecture and science, that children become advocates by watching their own parents’ actions and interests. Their daughter Hope, now a 21-year-old junior at Smith College, has researched issues that affect Prudence Island salt marshes. And son Arthur, a freshman at the University of Chicago, pointed out in his high school thesis that nearby development in Bristol could cause irreparable damage to the watershed.

And at the same time, thinking back on her own childhood in Bristol and awareness even at a very young age of the threats to what had been pristine waters, Shawen muses, “What condition would the Bay be in now, if it hadn’t been for an organization like Save The Bay so many years ago?”

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