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Phyliss Faber

A big thank you and a warm goodbye to Phyliss Faber By Bill Kier -- At Mill Valley StreamKeepers’ July meeting our treasurer, Barbara Ford announced that we had received a generous contribution from the estate of longtime Mill Valley resident Phyliss Faber who passed away in January. I volunteered to prepare this tribute to Phyliss, who I knew professionally long before Helen and I settled in Mill Valley 40 years ago. I discovered, not surprisingly that there were a number of tributes to Phyliss already out there, including this excellent ‘Remembering Phyliss Faber’ in Bay Nature magazine by David Kupfer. David’s interview, as so many others, captures how Phyliss, a young mother of three whose husband’s work with the Xerox Corp. had them bouncing from New York to the Bay Area and back to various East Coast locations -- more than a dozen moves before they were able to settle, finally, in Mill Valley up near the golf course in 1970 – had to reinvent herself. A native of New York City, Phyliss had an undergraduate degree in zoology from Mount Holyoak and a graduate degree in microbiology from Yale, but with three youngsters to tend to long lab days studying the structure and function of DNA were necessarily behind her. Phyliss turned, instead, to teaching Marin schoolkids at the Audubon Canyon Ranch near Stinson Beach about our native plants, even as she was learning about the plants herself. By 1982 Phyliss had written and published Common Wetland Plants of Coastal California. Phyliss became an early activist for protection of the coastline and worked on the campaign for Proposition 20, the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972. With the passage of Proposition 20, Marin’s State Senator Peter Behr successfully recommended Phyliss’ appointment to the North Central Regional Coastal Conservation Commission. Phyliss also became an increasingly determined coastal wetlands restoration expert, who with Bay Area environmental consulting icon Phil Williams, designed the assessment scheme for the restoration of Muzzi Marsh, that intended to compensate for the 1970s dredging of the Larkspur ferry terminal. ‘Not to take readers too far ‘into the weeds’, but Phyliss was so determined to document whether and how Muzzi Marsh restoration was proceeding over time, whether it was truly compensating for the impacts of the ferry terminal development as intended, that she revisited the monitoring stations that she and Phil Williams had installed out in the marsh relentlessly over the decades. Longtime Mill Valley resident Michael Fischer, who served as the executive director of the North Central Regional Coastal Commission during Phyliss’ service on that body and later as executive director of the State Coastal Conservancy, recalls Phyliss enlisting him, as a retiree -- as leaping across the Marsh’s channels became increasingly challenging for Phyliss -- to accompany her on these monitoring station-checking expeditions. Michael’s job was to pack a stepladder that he would lay across the Marsh’s channels such that Phyliss might walk atop it to reach her monitoring stations of yore. That this went on until Phyliss was into her 80s gives you some sense of this lady’s devotion to environmental conservation and restoration. Phyliss Faber brought so much energy and goodwill to her adopted state and hometown that she’s still very much among us here in Mill Valley. Ours is, therefore, a warm goodbye, Phyliss, and a great big thank you!


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