Owning Her “Seat at the Table:” Meghan Macaluso Champions Women Leaders, Nature Experiences

“People from Colorado are just like folks from the Bay Area: we love to get outdoors.”

Hailing from Denver, our Chief Development Officer is well-versed in breathtaking views. Every summer, Meghan Macaluso and her family would go hiking, biking, and camping in the Rockies. With her wonderfully dry humor, Meghan stresses: in working for Save The Bay, “the irony I had a landlocked upbringing is lost on no one.”

Yet, she fits right in here as a powerful woman leader pushing for change. Save The Bay was founded by three East Bay women who read a troubling piece in The Oakland Tribune and changed the narrative themselves. Outraged about the fate of our Bay should reckless development continue, this trio confronted wealthy landowners, massive companies, and influential politicians.

Meghan knows what it’s like to challenge the system. “I had my ‘a-ha’ moment in middle school. A really creepy outside group came and gave an abstinence-only presentation to our class. My mom was super upset when I told her, and we went down to the principal’s office. We made clear that the presentation was ‘wholly unacceptable,’ and that group never came back to our school.” That was Meghan’s first taste of what it meant to advocate for change and win.

But Meghan didn’t stop there. After college, she carved her own path in the non-profit world, eventually moving up to a leadership position with NARAL Pro-Choice America. It’s where Meghan learned the importance of “empowering women, giving them the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

Meghan speaking at a Save The Bay event
Meghan speaking at Blue 2017

Not surprisingly, Meghan was thrilled to switch gears and lead Development at an organization that champions strong-willed women. She’s moved by all that Save The Bay’s founders, “a small group of caring people,” accomplished to protect our Bay. She finds it “so unusual, too, for women to have a seat at the table at the time they did.”

Now, Meghan truly owns her “seat at the table.” “I’d say I’m a strong leader, generally – but by leading with compassion and inclusivity.” Meghan says our Executive Director deserves some credit for this. “I have an extraordinary relationship with David Lewis, a really special one where he mentors me as a female leader.”

Whether the issue is women’s rights or environmental justice, Meghan firmly believes: “the only times in history when we’ve seen change are when people put aside their differences and work together.”

She feels one of the best ways to inspire advocates for our Bay is to bring them right to the water’s edge. During last year’s Blue cruise, Meghan was glad to see “people breathing deeply, snuggling up with their partner,” having “a powerful experience” on the Bay. “It’s a recharge moment — you breathe in fresh air and it cleans out your system, mentally and physically.”

Meghan's son enjoying the beach
Meghan’s son enjoying the beach!

It’s why Meghan and her husband work hard to show their three-year-old son our Bay’s natural beauty. “We’ve been going on ‘nature walks’ since he was in a carrier, like a little monkey in front of me.” One of their favorite spots? Alameda’s Crowne Memorial Beach, where the water is “super gentle and kids of all ages can splash around.”

But inspiring her own son to value our Bay isn’t good enough for Meghan. She works tirelessly to raise funds for Save The Bay so that every Bay Area family can enjoy the outdoors. “What’s really driving me? Ensuring all children have a clean, healthy environment where they can thrive.”

This Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the courageous women leaders of Save The Bay, past and present. In 1961, Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick challenged the system and formed a movement to Save The Bay. Decades later, determined women scientists, educators, and policy experts move our mission forward.



Taking a Stand for San Francisco Bay

My name is Ian McKernan and I am a 7th grader at Shorecliffs Middle School in Orange County. Although I live in Southern California, I have visited the Bay Area many times and am always impressed with how clean and good the Bay looks. It’s always fun for me to see how many people enjoy it too. Personally, I like to sail around Dana Point Harbor, so I always look for people sailing on the water.

After hearing about Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick’s fight to save San Francisco Bay in the 1960s, it inspired me to build a website to share their story as my National History Day project. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.”

National History Day (NHD) is a year-long school program where students do research on historical topics that they choose and develop projects about them. The projects are then entered into contests at the local and state levels and the top projects from each state advance to the national contest in Washington D.C. at the end of the school year. More than half a million middle and high school students participate in NHD annually.

While researching the story of saving the Bay, I was most surprised to learn that San Francisco Bay was not protected by environmental laws in the 1960s like it is today. At that time, landowners, cities, and factories could build on the Bay and dump their toxic trash directly into the Bay. And they did just that! I was also surprised to learn that the laws that we have today resulted from the efforts of Save The Bay’s founders, not from the existing environmental groups or politicians at that time.

I was also impressed by how enthusiastic the people I interviewed for my project (Save The Bay’s Executive Director David Lewis, former Chief Engineer of the Bay Model William Angeloni, Sylvia McLaughlin’s daughter Jeanie Shaterian, and Senator McAteer’s son Dr. Terry McAteer) were when talking about an event that happened over 50 years ago. Their enthusiasm showed me how the women’s fight had a huge impact on the San Francisco Bay we enjoy today, and the importance of continuing their legacy of conservation into the future.

Click here to learn more about Save The Bay’s early history and view Ian’s website.

We are inspired by Ian. His passion for conservation shows that the youngest generation has the desire and drive to advocate for the Bay now, and far into the future.

You can inspire students like Ian by graciously giving to Save The Bay’s education programs. Our award-winning restoration education programs reach more than 2,000 kids each year. Your generous donation allows us to develop bay nature lesson plans for teachers, provide professional development for educators, organize school field trips to wetland restoration sites, and so much more. We can’t wait to teach a whole new group of students this year!

Thank you for supporting our work and for providing the resources needed to inspire the next generation of Bay stewards.


David Lewis

Executive Director, Save The Bay

Sylvia McLaughlin, A life of impact


Touched by the news of Sylvia’s passing, reporters from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and even Sylvia’s home state of Colorado paused to write lovely remembrances of her life and legacy. Here are some notable articles and remarks from the press.

Local Bay Area News Coverage:

Remembering Save the Bay’s Sylvia McLaughlin — KQED Forum  
Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis sat down with host KQED Forum host Mina Kim for a conversation about Sylvia McLaughlin’s contributions to the environmental movement and her legacy.  Listen >

Sylvia McLaughlin, co-founder of Save the Bay, dies at 99 — San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Fimrite chronicles the life of Sylvia McLaughlin from her early years to the formation of Save The Bay and her legacy as an environmental leader. Read more >

Save the Bay Co-Founder Sylvia McLaughlin Dies — KQED
Lindsey Hoshaw reflects on Sylvia’s life and the challenges she overcame to save the Bay. The piece ends with a 2008 interview with Sylvia about why she started Save The Bay. Read more> 

Sylvia McLaughlin: Champion for San Francisco Bay (1916-2016) — Bay Nature
David Loeb, Executive Director and Publisher of Bay Nature, reflects on Sylvia McLaughlin’s leadership and thanks her for showing how to get things done. Read more > 

Sylvia McLaughlin, last living founder of Save the Bay, dies at age 99 — Contra Costa Times
Reporter Dennis Cuff recounts the history of the movement to save San Francisco Bay started by Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick. Read more >

Sylvia McLaughlin, lifelong Berkeley environmentalist, dies at 99 — Daily Californian 
Alexander Barreira writes for the Daily Californian, an independent student-run paper at UC Berkeley, reporting on the life of environmental trailblazer, Sylvia McLaughlin. Read More >

Other news:

Sylvia McLaughlin dies at 99; longtime San Francisco Bay environmental activist — Los Angeles Times 
Jill Levy reminds us that Sylvia’s activism was rooted in her love for the beauty of San Francisco Bay. That beauty inspired decades of advocacy and environmental successes. Read more>

Environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin dies at age 99 — Denver Post 
News of Sylvia McLaughlin’s passing reported in a Colorado newspaper. Read more >

Carrying on Sylvia’s legacy


Sylvia with Monica
Monica met Sylvia McLaughlin during Save The Bay’s 50th anniversary.

When someone asks me, “Who are your heroes?” the people who come to mind are often strangers who live in other places or other times. Sylvia McLaughlin is the one whose picture I see every workday, reminding me that heroes are simply people who see what needs to be done and do it.

I started working at Save The Bay in 2011, as the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary year. It was an incredible way to connect with the history of this environmental movement. The story of these three women from Berkeley who stood up for a better San Francisco Bay is inspiring to all of us. Can you imagine if they hadn’t succeeded? Would our beloved San Francisco Bay be merely a polluted shipping channel? Before learning the history, it was easy to take the Bay for granted, a sparkling gem that defines the Bay Area. I am both inspired and humbled by the work that Save The Bay’s founders started in Sylvia’s home in the Berkeley hills all those years ago.

I was thrilled the first time I heard Sylvia speak in person, at our 50th anniversary gala event.  She quoted her friend and co-founder Kay Kerr: “The San Francisco Bay is never saved, it is always in the process of being saved.” She encouraged each of us to keep working for a better San Francisco Bay. Her words resonated throughout the room, a reminder not just to look back at the fights already won, but to embrace the work of constantly improving our Bay.

When Sylvia McLaughlin passed away last month at the age of 99, she left a long list of accomplishments and an admirable legacy.  As we honor her life, I’m filled with awe and gratitude of the impact she had on our region. The San Francisco Bay is no longer seen as a giant sewer or unused real estate. This thriving estuary is now ringed with parks and open space to give the public access to its shoreline, including McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, named in Sylvia’s honor. Each time we look out over San Francisco Bay, we can thank Sylvia.

A legacy of determination

I am so thankful to Sylvia for her persistence and determination. She and her friends faced what must have seemed like impossible challenges, and changed the course of history. Sylvia’s lifelong commitment to working for a better Bay is a legacy all of its own.

The ways that we interact with the Bay have changed in the last 50 years, and the challenges we face are new as well. In the face of climate change and the Bay Area’s growing population, the task at hand can feel as impossible as what our founders faced half a century ago.  But just as Sylvia saved the Bay for us, I am confident that we can save the Bay for future generations.

We take inspiration from Sylvia’s vision for the San Francisco Bay, rooted in her deep love for this place we all come home. We will remember her courage when we face our own impossible odds. We’ll channel her tenacity when confronted by powerful interests. And we will share her faith that ordinary people achieve great things when they come together and raise their voices as one.

In Memoriam: Sylvia McLaughlin

In the days following Sylvia McLaughlin’s passing we received hundreds of emails, social media comments, and phone calls celebrating her life and legacy. Here are some of the most moving tributes to our co-founder.

“Her vision for the Bay was revolutionary even by today’s standards. So thankful for her dedication to our region’s greatest natural treasure.”
– Allison C.

“In the face of a multitude of environmental problems, Sylvia’s life reminds us of the power of optimism and determination. To keep pushing forward even when discouraged or set back. To never lose hope when fighting for what you believe in. That is how a true leader reaches such accomplishments.”
– Jon B.

“I am deeply honored every day to carry on the legacy of this great woman, of the vision she and her friends had to see San Francisco Bay as a natural treasure. Every time I catch a glimpse of our great bay, I am grateful for the work she did for all of us and inspired to keep working for a better bay. Rest in peace, Sylvia. I know that you are still enjoying the view.”
– Monica C.

“I had the great privilege of meeting and working with Sylvia throughout my tenure at Save The Bay. It was always such a pleasure to spend time with her because her stories were so inspirational, her wit was enviable, and her kindness and warmth were so welcoming. I never tired of telling others Save The Bay’s foundation story, nor did I ever tire of hearing it from Sylvia herself. She, along with Kay and Esther, did something truly remarkable and revolutionary — even for today’s standards — and I continue to draw inspiration from their courage and commitment everyday. She was such a gem, and she will be truly missed.” Amy R.

“In my work as a local activist, I remain inspired by the hard grassroots work Sylvia took up, believing that hope must be enacted if we are to save local places we love and spare the planet more devastation wrought by thoughtlessness and greed.” – Marilyn B.

I remember Sylvia as a force of nature — tireless in her advocacy for doing the right thing, and no less when that meant acting as the conscience of powerful people.  Not only SF Bay, but the entire community and the University are the beneficiaries of Sylvia’s dedicated energy and gentle but firm voice.”
– Rob G.

“Sylvia inspired whole generations of Bay area citizens to embrace and tirelessly advocate for our beautiful Bay. She was the embodiment of grit, grace, generosity and perseverance. May we honor Sylvia by carrying on her fierce love for the Bay for generations to come.” – Mary S.

“Sylvia, Thank you for changing so many lives so that we can enjoy your efforts in saving our Bay.  It seemed very apropos that you chose to depart on a day when many women were meeting in Oakland to try to carry on your legacy.  Thank you.” – Janet L. 

Greatness in passion, women at the helm, thank you Sylvia in making our jewel of the bay a lasting environmental masterpiece.”
– Catherine B.

“With great appreciation for a life well lived and for setting the bar so high for environmental activism and stewardship. I appreciate Sylvia’s work every time I walk or cycle the Eastshore waterfront — which is often — and think of how lucky we all are to have such a beautiful spot in an otherwise intensely urban environment. I am grateful for her efforts, Sylvia McLaughlin was one of a kind.” – Susan A.

“For over twenty years I had the pleasure and honor of working beside Sylvia on the board of Citizens for East Shore Parks, and she always had our mission clear, and she kept us steering the right course with graciousness, kindness and respect. Such a lovely, dear woman.” – Teddi B.

“She was a tireless worker and an inspiration to all Bay Area residents. We will miss her and always remember what she did for us and for California.”
– Velma K.

“Sylvia used her life on our tiny blue planet in a way that will long be remembered, and which beneficially served the multi millions of residents and visitors to the Bay Area.  One of the most important aesthetic and economic features is our Bay and this small, determined woman saved it for all of us.  Well done, Sylvia.  I salute your  well lived life and thank you for this beautiful legacy.” – Jan B.

“Thanks, Sylvia, for all that you did to keep our bay healthy. I am so thankful to have met you and remain truly inspired by your tremendous contributions.” – Mike O.

Oh what a legacy she leaves. Honing her advocacy in an age when women were to keep silent, she did not! She, Dorthy Erskine, and a host of other women saved our landscape, our bay, our region. Our hearts are sad tonight, but undoubtly she is now hard at work helping protect a higher realm.”
– Steve V.

“Kay, Esther, and Silvia…the grand goddesses of the movement… are all gone now which leaves us old acolytes to pick up and share their institutional memories. And the burden of the fight goes to you and the other younger warriors who have the knowledge, fire, and determination to continue to win the battle to protect the best of the past to create a better future. My deep sense of sadness is palpable.  Let us help where we can.  Continued good luck.” – Rod D.

“Sylvia was one of my husband, John Dewitt’s supporters and friend when he first started working under Newton Drury at the Save the Redwoods League in 1964.  I got to know her better at the League Council meetings and then as a guest in her home.  Her energy and determination was astounding.  I will never forget her generosity, commitment to conservation, and dedication to making this place a more beautiful, more healthy, and one that could be enjoyed by all who live here.  Her efforts changed the bay from a toxic place, devoid of any plant growth, invertebrate graveyard, unable to support bird or animal life, to a vibrant jewel that it is today.” – Karma D.

“One of the most important qualities in life is tenacity (or, I daresay, stubbornness), which Sylvia and her co-founders had in spades. They will always be heroes to California and to the world.” – Amber K.

“Sylvia spoke to the kids at Berkeley Montessori School about 10 years ago. She was passionate as she told the kids about how difficult it was to start Save the Bay (thousands of index cards with supporters’ names and addresses were written and filed, lots of old fashioned phone calls were made and letters sent). The kids were daunted by the thought of no computers, Facebook or email. Sylvia just smiled!” – Colleen N.

“Women like Sylvia McLaughlin are so important as role models to both men and women. I didn’t know her personally, but her example gives me courage to generate positive change in my own fields. I know she will be sorely missed by those who knew and loved her.” – Melitta V.

“Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin has long been one of my role models. Pushing on when people told her it wasn’t possible, advocating for what her community needed, leading with grace. The highlight of my time as Board Chair was escorting Sylvia to Save the Bay events, hearing her stories, learning from her wisdom. When I’m feeling stuck, I ask myself what Sylvia would do. Our world is a much better place because of her. I’m honored to have known Sylvia.” – Jody R.