The news this last weekend of the passing of legendary Vermonter and NOFA-VT Executive Director Enid Wonnacott begins a tremendously sad time for her friends and family, for farmers and farm advocates (most of whom were also her friends and family) across Vermont and indeed, for many of us across the U.S.
I was lucky enough to know Enid and to expect her smiling face and warm embrace on my trips to Vermont, usually done in conjunction with the annual Direct Marketing Conference held by NOFA-VT. The first time I met Enid was at the 2012 conference, briefly saying hello to her early that morning, before letting her and the rest of the team continue with their set up. When she went up later to introduce me, I was surprised to see her as the representative as we had only a minute together at that point. In her introduction, I was to learn what everyone else in the room already knew: Enid had a genius for seeing people quickly and clearly. She spoke about me, noting what she had learned from then NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator Jean Hamilton already and what she had observed all morning from my activities while there. It was specific, it was wise, and it set the stage perfectly for my keynote.
In my return trips to Vermont, Enid made time in her schedule to sit with me and ask questions about work across the country and to share with me what she was focused on in Vermont. Our conversations were almost always about two things in varying degrees: farmers and NOFA. Both groups were under her care, which meant they got her motherly mien and practical planning on their behalf.
Once in her world, one stayed in her circle. I saw constant examples of that when former staff returned to NOFA-Vt’s bustling and homey office in Richmond and she gave them her full attention while delighting in their stories, or watching her sit in deep conversation with farmers at this or that meeting, or even when I was at home in New Orleans and people would seek me out telling me, “Enid told me to come find you at the market.”
In most cases, those who choose the role of executive director of a statewide non-profit do so because they can manage all of the multiple reins needed: funding, staffing, program development, governance, partnerships, mission, strategy. It always seemed to me that Enid had a light but sure hand at NOFA; in other words, one that left no doubt that she was leading. And one that left no doubt that the guidance of her team and their support of farmers were the most important things among all of those. That never-ending interest for people and her eagerness to make it all joyous means that NOFA-VT and her larger Vermont group is one of the most collaborative, intuitive and savvy set of individuals that I have the privilege of working with directly. It will be so very hard for them to go on without her, but I know she prepared them as well as she could and they will have their thousands of interactions and bits of wisdom to draw from when needed. My pal Erin has stepped up to lead this team for now and I know Enid left this world knowing we would all be there helping her in this difficult time. And I know that Erin will meet the challenge.
The last time I saw Enid, she came out to a dinner while I was in town (as she almost always did when able), talking to me at length about her family, about her own plans, about our shared friends and colleagues, and the hope embedded in our work. She believed in the future as anyone would who cared as much about land and people as she did, and I always left her presence with more determination and appreciation for both, and for Vermont.
Thank you, Enid. Thank you for all that I have gained because of you. I won’t forget your example.
A few pieces by this brilliant woman:
and this is something I wrote about the affirmation at the top of this post that hangs on my wall.