Ward and Mary Paine: Pioneer preservationists honored with lifetime achievement award


Portola Valley duo Ward and Mary Paine have been key players in preserving tens of thousands of acres of Peninsula hills, baylands and coastside as permanent open space over more than five decades.

Recipients of the 2019 Avenidas Lifetime of Achievement awards, the Paines' path to conservation began after they moved to the Bay Area in the early 1960s: Ward was working with KRS Electronics; Mary was volunteering for various health and welfare nonprofits, which eventually led her to the environmental group Peninsula Conservation Center, where she took a seat on the board.

"They were in a little tiny house in Menlo Park ... but they were inundated with requests for help from the schools about teaching environmental ed, which was sort of new terminology in the late 1960s," Mary said.

Mary turned to Ward — who by this time had launched a tech startup and was well on his way to becoming one of the valley's earliest venture capitalists — to assist with the organization's finances. This was the start of their prolific work in preservation, first together at the Conservation Center and then separately through nonprofits that they helped co-found.

Mary's fundraising efforts at the Conservation Center led to a spin-off organization, Environmental Volunteers, a nonprofit aimed at introducing natural history and environmental science to children. She co-founded the organization after chairing a Conservation Center auction to fund efforts to spur interest in conservation within the community. The auction raised $10,000, which was used to create a project that became the Environmental Volunteers.

Over the years, Mary raised funds for the nonprofit, including leading the eight-year effort to secure $3.8 million to restore the ship-shaped Sea Scout building in the Baylands that became the group's headquarters in 2012. She also worked with the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club to restore hundreds of acres in the San Francisco Bay through planting and alleviating tidal surge and infill.

Around the same time Mary was launching Environmental Volunteers, Ward helped develop the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), an offshoot of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District that negotiates with local property owners to purchase parcels of land for open space and conservation. Once land is acquired, the Regional Open Space district manages the space.

Through easements and land purchases, POST has been responsible for preserving more than 76,000 acres of open space in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, including the 1,719 acres surrounding Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the coast, which the group secured for $39 million in 2000. The deal was reportedly the largest amount of money ever paid by a nonprofit for land in the western United States.

"It was Herb Grench's idea to have a private company do what (POST) does, and I was sort of the implementer," Ward said. "I recruited the board of directors, and I was the chairman for the first 10 years. We had a terrific group of seven or eight people, and we met at 7:45 in the morning because everybody had to go to work. We had an office at 3000 Sand Hill Road because (Director) Tom Ford owned the building."

The group, which included conservationists and a real-estate developer, began in 1972. Ward said POST's first major conservation success was the Windy Hill area of Portola Valley, which was originally slated for the development of more than 400 homes.

"We have a farm program now where we will buy a piece of property, and we'll put limitations on it and find farmers to farm it. If they're unsuccessful or if they need to sell it, we will buy it back along with the improvements, like tractors and irrigation ditches. The idea is to keep it green and agricultural and not make it look like Santa Monica."

Ward believes the creation of POST is the most successful thing he's been a part of, including all of the projects and businesses he financed as a venture capitalist.

"When Ward and I first moved here, the environmental movement didn't exist, and yet, there were little enclaves like Hidden Villa out in Los Altos Hills and a little group called Green Foothills," Mary said. "There were land trust discussions that were happening in San Francisco, and it was very avant-garde to go to these meetings. Of course, now it's all such an ordinary part of our conversation. It's a changed world. Now, everyone speaks conservation; everyone speaks environment. But it's hard to believe that 40 years ago nobody knew what the word meant."

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Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Welch
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 23, 2019 at 11:39 am

I am so grateful for the legacy that Ward and Mary Paine created with establishing such great organizations such as Environmental Volunteers and POST. Thanks to them, there are thousands of acres and countless areas that will be preserved for generations to enjoy. I especially love the views of Windy Hill from my neighborhood and witness the hundreds of visitors that visit town weekly to enjoy the hikes.

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