A lifelong member, volunteer and generous donor to The Wilderness Society, Margo Earley made an indelible impact on the conservation community. Though she passed away in 2021, her legacy continues to inspire us today.
Growing up on the eastern seaboard, Margo enjoyed traveling, often attending Governing Council meetings around the country with her father, Ernest S. Griffith, who was Treasurer of The Wilderness Society for 30 years. Hiking with some of the giants of the early conservation movement, her passion for wilderness was born.
After attending Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., Margo graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a zoology major and a music minor. Four months later, she married George Earley, who would become her husband of 69 years. Eventually, the couple settled in Bloomfield, Connecticut to raise four children—David, Steve, Kate and Christine. Busy though she was in her new roles as a wife and mother, her love for the outdoors only strengthened.
For the next three decades, Margo organized summer camping and backpacking trips for her family, initially in the Appalachians and Adirondack Mountains, then further afield in the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas and the Northwest Cascades, and later to Canada, Alaska and the European Alps. Gaining new skills and confidence with each excursion, she became a seasoned backpacker, who was notably adept with an ice-axe. It was no surprise, then, that at age 50 she completed the 211-mile John Muir Trail. Several years later, seeking “a different challenge,” she completed a gruelling 11-day Outward Bound sailing course off the coast of Maine.
At home, Margo was known for being a terrific cook and a gracious host to anyone who happened to walk through the door, as well as a gifted writer with a poetic turn of phrase—and some poetic license! Her annual Christmas letters and family emails brought entertainment and joy. Always finding time to do more, she also sang in the church choir—including a number of years as a paid soloist—served on school parent committees, volunteered at an inner-city hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, performed in a local theatre and operatic group, and began a lifetime commitment as a blood donor.
But her heart was always in the West near the great open spaces she had come to cherish in her travels. In 1989, she and George packed up and moved to Oregon to build a new home and a new life on the lower slopes of Mount Hood. Together, they raised a succession of beloved Alaskan Malamutes and hosted numerous events, including family gatherings, the annual winter retreat of the Lincoln High School Constitution class, community meetings and Wilderness First Aid and CPR training courses.
Margo continued to pursue opportunities to introduce others to wild places. Over many summers, she volunteered on trail maintenance crews, and, for more than 15 years, she led numerous backpacking trips in the Northwest for the Sierra Club. Later, she even became a First Aid Shepherd on local hikes up and down the Columbia Gorge. She loved exploring the mountain ranges of the Northwest and climbed many peaks, summiting Mount Rainier once and Mount Hood three times. In addition, she hiked more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Not surprisingly, Margo also became a fierce public lands advocate during this time. As an advisor to The Wilderness Society, she supported the organization’s voice from the grassroots level to congressional offices in Washington, D.C. In addition, she served for 15 years on the Board of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a community organization known today as THRIVE, which advocates for sustainable land use in the Hood River region.
Over the course of a lifetime of wilderness experience, Margo developed not only an encyclopaedic knowledge of trails hiked and mountain ranges visited, but also a commitment to the communities that rely on these lands. On a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp 20 years ago, Margo was inspired from conversations with her guide to fund health care at a Nepalese village where none had existed, so that today there is a year-round medical clinic serving thousands of people.
In her commitment to wild places, Margo was an exceptional role model. Her passion for the outdoors—be it the glacial moraine, the Indian paintbrush, the bear, the elk, the creek or the mountain peak—was boundless and unwavering, and an inspiration to family and friends and the broader conservation community. She knew the importance of personal renewal gained from time in the wilderness, but equally she knew the importance of giving back, and of working to preserve wild places for future generations, human and animal.
Like Margo, The Wilderness Society envisions a future where people and wild nature flourish together, meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing planet. We are grateful to Margo Earley and her family, past and present, for a legacy of Wilderness advocacy that has done so much to protect America’s wild places.
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