Pioneers in sustainability take a bow
Jeanne Roy is the Type A worker bee of the two. Her husband of 56 years, Dick Roy, is the philosophical one, the visionary.
Together, they've spent the past 25 years in Portland as unpaid leaders of several environmental nonprofits, working to motivate and empower thousands in the community toward sustainable change.
The couple, in their late 70s, were champions of sustainability long before that term — and before "climate change," "zero-waste" and "plastics crisis" — were part of everyday conversation.
Some advocates may have burned out over the decades. But as native Oregonians, the Roys believe that local activism is the most powerful tool of all, no matter how small it may seem.
"We have seen the effect of what individual change agents can do," says Jeanne, a petite powerhouse who enjoys singing, hiking and spending time on the Oregon coast.
As examples, she cites the city's grassroots-led progress on bike commuting; moving toward local, seasonal and organic food; and Portland's ban on plastic bags. "I never thought it would happen, and it happened," Jeanne says of the bag ban.
During the past 25 years, the Roys have led or helped lead local organizations and initiatives including Northwest Earth Institute, Chess for Success, Multnomah County's Master Recycler Program, Oregon Natural Step Network, Portlanders for Outdoor School and the Center for Earth Leadership.
The latter organization has been home of the Eco School Network — a cohort of dozens of parents and educators in Portland, Beaverton, West Linn and Clackamas who are trained to become "agents of change" in their school communities.
Agents of change are trained by their peers at no cost; they are on the front lines of school board meetings, legislative rallies and school-by-school pilot projects of their choosing. One of their latest efforts is to install milk dispensers in cafeterias to eliminate milk carton waste, as Clackamas County has been able to do with eight of their schools in a growing pilot initiative.
As the Network became its own nonprofit this year, Jeanne has passed the torch to a new director, Amy Higgs. Jeanne serves as board chair, an active part of their annual fall retreat, beach plastics cleanup, garden tours, recruitment efforts and other educational and inspirational events for school leaders.
This retiring couple has no plans to sit around and relax.
"Jeanne loves to do research and writing; I'm the marketing agent," says Dick Roy, a former Stoel Rives attorney who literally wears rose-colored glasses.
Jeanne also has another impressive skill, which has helped Portland's sustainability movement snowball: She's known for picking up the good old-fashioned telephone to invite volunteers to serve on committees and take on opportunities, rather than send invitations by email, text or Facebook. "She's the best inviter on earth," Dick says.
Jeanne and Dick married in 1962, a week after she graduated from Oregon State University; he was a year ahead. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy, then studied at Stanford University, graduating from law school in 1970. He practiced law in Portland for 23 years as they raised three children and Jeanne took on various volunteer positions.
In 1992, Jeanne literally wrote the book on Multnomah County's Master Recycler Program, developing the curriculum and teaching courses that are now offered through the city as well as counties throughout the state.
Then in 1993, the Roys launched their own nonprofit, the Northwest Earth Institute, in part inspired by a conference in Seattle they attended that year called Earth and Spirit.
There, they learned about the term "deep ecology," which explores humans' unique relationship to the earth and responsibility for the well-being of other species.
The Roys dropped the spiritual elements of the teachings but used it as a base for an eight-week discussion course Dick created, focusing on building awareness and consciousness through self-discovery.
Using Dick's connections, they invited businesses, law firms and any other organization to take part, spreading the sustainability ethos from the ground up.
The concept caught on, and soon the Earth Institute grew to include 20 sister Earth Institutes across the United States and another 22 chapters across the Northwest.
In 2006, the Roys hired an executive director to take over the Earth Institute and switched gears to start a new nonprofit, the Center for Earth Leadership.
The center shifted the focus from discussion to boots-on-the-ground action, as well as ways to build intent and motivation.
"We wanted to see if people could look at themselves as an agent of change," Dick says.
Those who've worked with the Roys say they are constantly amazed by Jeanne's energy and unfailing determination, and ability to kindly hold people accountable.
"We will attend meetings together and she is always the first to get back to me, the first to respond and even when the person in the room is saying no, she is always the 'what if' person in the room," says Celeste Lewis, a Southwest Portland architect and mom who has worked with Jeanne on various issues since 2011.
Liz Erickson, a Northeast Portland mom and longtime volunteer with the Network, says she often thinks of the Roys "to keep perspective and know that everyone can only do what they can do, and encourage others to do what they can do. We all cannot do it all, or alone."
Both Jeanne and Dick say they have a tremendous amount of faith and optimism moving forward, even as the nation's position on climate change action looks bleak.
Dick's approach is to focus on what he calls "alignment" — how a person conducts his or her energy in the world — rather than outcome.
Jeanne, too, takes it one small step at a time. "This is going to be a very vital period of time to continue on," she says. Change "takes time, but we have a vision so we'll get there."
The Eco School Network is currently kicking off its fall Agent of Change course. For details: http://www.ecoschoolnetwork.org; see their video at https://vimeo.com/287332051.
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