Leadership Council bids farewell to long-time chair, Martha Kongsgaard

Today marked a significant transition for the Puget Sound Partnership and its Leadership Council as Martha Kongsgaard officially retired as Council chair. Governor Jay Inslee has appointed Jay Manning to step into the role, effective December 7.

A founding member of the Leadership Council, Martha has served as chair for much of her decade’s long association with the Partnership. In an email to Partnership staff, Martha noted that, “There was no external trigger to this decision — after ten years, it was simply time.”

Tireless leader

Martha welcomes Congressman Derek Kilmer to a Leadership Council meeting.
Martha welcomes Congressman Derek Kilmer to a Leadership Council meeting.

“This is a loss we will all feel deeply and personally,” said Sheida Sahandy, Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director. “Martha has served tirelessly as our leader, our eloquent advocate and, frankly, our spiritual North Star. Her legacy of wisdom, grace and dedication to protecting this place she so loves has inspired and buoyed us all.”

Immersed in the hard issues

In a letter to Martha, Governor Inslee stated, “From the very beginning, you have dedicated your heart and soul to Puget Sound recovery and preservation…You’ve never shied away from immersing yourself in the hard issues facing the Sound and have always been there to experience needs firsthand, whether it was swimming the Duwamish or mucking around in shellfish beds and farm manure.”

Martha and Sheida suit up to swim the Duwamish River with Washington Environmental Council's Mark Powell
Martha and Sheida suit up to swim the Duwamish River with Washington Environmental Council’s Mark Powell

Martha announced her retirement last month. Below are excerpts from her resignation letter to Governor Inslee:

It is with no small measure of both accomplishment and regret that I ask you to accept this letter as my formal resignation from the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. It has been my singular honor to serve two Governors on the Leadership Council for nearly a decade and as its Chair for well over half of that. The best management of any board of directors calls for an occasional leadership refresh, and I feel very comfortable now, at the end of 2016, to step away and allow for that. I have been throughout hugely supported and inspired by the incomparable and virtuosic staff of this small backbone organization, awed by their ability to creatively and with great passion (and on a shoe string if we are honest) imagine and then work toward a more resilient Salish Sea, always punching ‘well above their weight,’ technically, strategically and with great decency. They are the glue that binds this consequential work.
Martha and Puget Sound advocates convene in Washington D.C. to meet with Senator Maria Cantwell and discuss the importance of Puget Sound recovery.
… During my tenure on the Leadership Council, I had the distinct privilege of working alongside a wonderfully dedicated group of people among whom were two of our nation’s towering leaders: Billy Frank Jr., and Bill Ruckelshaus, trailblazing pioneers whose day to day commitment, well into their 80’s, to the public good and to the ecosystem on whose future it rests was matched only by their formidable moral authority flexed over their lifetimes for the good of every Washingtonian. We as a Leadership Council have always tried to emulate their simple directives to “speak the truth,” “tell your stories,” and to realize that to maintain the health and resiliency of anything, one must “work everlastingly at it.” I also have had the great privilege of working collaboratively and deeply with the Puget Sound Indian Tribes, the leaders and talented staffs of our sister state agencies and our federal partners, without whom this work does not get done.
Similarly, I have had the great deep pleasure to work with and learn from the NGO community and industry who work so effectively in this space, without whom in large part government would not find the support (or the urging) to do what is right and often difficult. There is uniquely in Puget Sound a vast citizenry of citizen scientists, students, agitators, neighbors, immigrants, multiple generations of recreational anglers and barefoot little clamming kids who make up a virtual army of the committed, of the selfless, of the often impatient. These are people whose experience outdoors place a memory baseline line in the sand every time a fish is caught or isn’t; every time a whale plies the water or doesn’t; every time the snow pack accumulates to feed the rivers on time in the spring or doesn’t. This loose affiliation of witnesses and actors is strung across the landscape like a shield, protecting and advocating for this singular place on earth, the Salish Sea, Salmon Nation, this ‘universe in a mountain cradle,’ Puget Sound. During this time of civic discord and division across the country, that seems no small feat and a cause for hope.

… As I step down off of the Leadership Council, I can’t help but feel extreme confidence and optimism in the ongoing work of the Partnership. For as we ask often, where else has the same profound indigenous land ethic, passionate environmental brain trust, and optimistic entrepreneurial depth as the Northwest? We are in good hands but will have to ratchet up our work to manage the footprint of the incoming population, the traffic on the Salish Sea, the effects of climate change and the resultant ocean acidification that is changing our ocean’s condition, threatening industry and our very way of life.

This state, this region, we owe you

At the December 6 meeting of the Leadership Council, Martha officially stepped down and welcomed incoming chair Jay Manning, who called Martha a “tireless, hard worker, who will do what’s necessary to get the job done…the most fearless truthteller I’ve ever seen.”

He closed his remarks with a statement echoed by staff, partners, and all those who have benefited from Martha’s work: “This state, this region, we owe you.”

Thank you for everything, Martha. We will miss you.

Martha and Sheida swim the Green River together, summer 2014
Martha and Puget Sound advocates convene in Washington D.C. to meet with Senator Maria Cantwell and discuss the importance of Puget Sound recovery.