The Muddy River Restoration Project Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee and its extended community of environmental stewards mourns the death of Fran Gershwin. MMOC Chair Emerita and the guiding spirit behind every aspect of the historic Muddy River Restoration Project, Fran was a leading advocate for urban parks nationwide. Her unmatched intellect and generous, collaborative spirit will be profoundly missed.
We will be posting a remembrance and announcing several events in Fran’s honor in the near future.
This tribute was delivered at the recent MMOC Annual Meeting on April 26, 2023.
HONORING FRAN GERSHWIN
MMOC Annual Meeting, April 26, 2023
Just a little over a year ago today, Fran Gershwin, as Chair of the MMOC, was preparing to speak at the 16th Annual Muddy River Symposium. She was readying a slide presentation to showcase the dramatic progress all along the 3.5 miles of the historic Muddy River Restoration Project—and its enormous environmental impacts.
Every aspect of the Project that we celebrate this evening is a testament to Fran’s extraordinarily skillful, unwaveringly generous, wise, collaborative, and creative leadership.
For the past year, we have all held faith in the powers of prayer and the best of Boston’s medical arts to restore Fran to good health. Tonight, as we welcome her husband Stan, along with her son Julian and his partner Erin, and commend all the parties and partners who have brought this monumental Restoration Project to fruition, we salute Frances Allou Gershwin.
It will certainly take some time to capture a full and fitting tribute to Fran. On this occasion, as a start, I’d like to share a few important voices.
Ellen Faszewski, former Director of Environmental Science at COF, launched the Muddy River Symposium with Fran in 2007. Together, they asked: How can we best advocate for ecosystems, especially those that are right at our doorsteps? Ellen recalls, “Fran saw the Symposium as an opportunity to encourage new generations of River advocates. She brought big-picture intelligence and unstinting commitment, sharing the goals and challenges of the Restoration Project so students could understand the challenges and the complexities. Fran led tours; shared detailed maps and graphics; enlisted Brookline representatives, Boston-area senators, River advocates, environmental stewards; and always welcomed students at MMOC meetings.
She inspired. She was my mentor.”
Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of the City Parks Alliance, shared these thoughts with Fran’s husband Stan: “Fran was our best board member—always ready to help in any way that she could. She was the co-chair of our Advocacy Committee, which oversees our federal work on behalf of urban parks, and chair of our Finance Committee, where she was extremely helpful in reviewing documents and policies. She was also a member of our Strategic Planning Committee and in fact, had asked us if she could stay on the committee even after her board term was up to help see the plan through to implementation.
Over the years she advised us on many legal matters, no matter how big or small. Our first board meeting in person after the pandemic was held in Boston, where she helped coordinate a compelling tour of Boston’s waterfront, Rose Kennedy Greenway, and historic parks. We were fortunate to see the fruit of her labor to restore the Muddy River.
What a legacy she has left to Boston and Brookline—and impact she has had on the national urban parks advocacy movement.”
Betsy Shure Gross worked hand-in-hand with Fran to establish the framework for the entire Restoration Project. According to Betsy, “Nearly 30 years ago, Fran told Justine Liff that she was interested in becoming involved in an environmental organization. Justine suggested that Fran, as a Brookline resident, could join the Brookline and Boston environmental advocates working on the Muddy River following the 1996 floods that caused nearly one hundred million dollars of damage to abutting properties. Fran jumped in.
Based on her memories of childhood days in New York Olmsted parks, Fran engaged with the Emerald Necklace Muddy River Restoration Project with her characteristic zeal. It was as if she were working toward a PhD. We became colleagues and then, over hours, days, weeks, months, and years of creating and developing the concept of a new vision of public policy—the MMOC—we became strong, bonded friends and allies.
PUBLIC OVERSIGHT REIMAGINED, we believed, would serve park users and constituents. It would also serve our public partners charged with the care, custody, and control of the Olmsted-designed public lands. To her everlasting credit, the gift of Fran’s legal expertise, her laser focus on the challenging issues and complexities, and her patient volunteer leadership of the MMOC assured that the users and constituents represented by the MMOC are integral components of decision-making for the Muddy River.”
Betsy adds: “Thank you, Fran.”
I worked closely with Fran on the Our Muddy Campaign to ensure that the public—from the littlest muddy puddle jumpers on up—was continually updated on (and engaged in) the Project’s progress. She prioritized hands-on experiences and, a master of melding authoritative information with her trademark humor, Fran gave the BEST tours.
Tonight, it is my privilege to honor Fran, my beloved colleague and friend.
View the MMOC Annual Meeting, including this tribute to Fran Gershwin.
Remarks: Carol Lasky
Photo: Kyle Klein