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OUTTAKES: Remembering Emily Earley

June 30, 1916 – April 16, 2011


In February 2012, Emily Earley’s daughter Susie Earley shared remembrances of her mother with Natural Heritage Land Trust Membership Director Martha Frey. Here are the outtakes from the published interview which appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of LandScene.


Martha: What motivated your mother to help protect and preserve the environment in Dane County?
Susie: I think mother was motivated by a deep love of nature. In her youth, she was mostly a city girl. New York City’s Central Park, a magical place, was her playground. While her oldest brother Bill collected butterflies in the park, mother watched the birds. In the summers, mother and her family would vacation at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island where there were gardens and other natural areas in which the children played. Mother believed that wild places close to home need to be protected and preserved.

Martha: Did your mother talk with you about her experiences during World War II?
Susie: My sister Dorothy was born on December 3, 1941. As it did to that whole generation, the advent of World War II, 4 days after the birth of their first child, changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, my father James Earley accepted a job in the Office of Price Control in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; my parents and Dorothy moved to Waterford, Virginia. During the war, mother volunteered for the Red Cross, tended her victory garden, and participated in the Waterford Preservation Society (a land conservation organization). Her twins (Jerry and I) were born 5 weeks before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By September 1945, my parents had moved back to Madison, and were living into the house on Sylvan Avenue (a dirt road at the time). My father was back teaching at the University. Who knows what might have been different had it not been for the War.

Martha: Which of her many accomplishments do you think your mother was most proud?
Susie: Mother was proud to have nurtured younger staff and volunteers at various conservation organizations. I believe she mentored Jim Welsh when he worked for The Nature Conservancy. I know mother was proud to have received The Nature Conservancy’s Stewardship Award in 1982 or 1983. This award recognized mother’s achievements in land stewardship. I remember attending the awards ceremony in Newport News, Virginia with Dorothy.

Martha: Can you tell me about your mother and the Walrus Club?
Susie: Thinking back on my childhood, I remember mother enjoying researching and writing papers to read at luncheon meetings of the Walrus Club in Madison. The club’s name is a reference to "The Walrus and the Carpenter" a poem by Lewis Carroll that appeared in his book Through the Looking-Glass. You may know the lines: "the time has come", the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes-and ships-and sealing wax-Of cabbages and kings-And why the sea is boiling hot-And whether pigs have wings.”

Martha: Was your mother a reader?
Susie: Mother was a voracious reader. Her personal library had many reference books for nature's wonders. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which was published in 1962, was a wakeup call for mother and her friends. While sorting through her books in preparation for selling the house on Sylvan Avenue, I asked mother if we could give The Odyssey and The Iliad away. She replied, “Of course not.”

Martha: What was your mother’s secret to long life?
Susie: Longevity runs in mother’s family. For example, her sister lived to be 100 plus. Mother kept an active mind, always reading books and newspapers. I would say mother’s secret to long life was that she never succumbed to feeling old.

Martha: What else would you like to share about your mother?
Susie: I believe that mother was a force in the environmental community. Mother stayed involved in the world of conservation until a year or two before her death in 2011. Both Mother and I were touched when 150 people gathered at Capital Lakes (a retirement community in downtown Madison) to honor her shortly after she was inducted in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame.

When I moved back to Madison in 2005, almost every day, someone would ask me, “Are you Emily Earley’s daughter?” When I said, “Yes, I am,” the person often would reply, “Emily is wonderful.” Those kind words always made me feel good.

Go to the spring 2012 edition of LandScene to read the published interview with Susie Earley.

Picture on right: Emily Earley and her daughter Susie Earley on vacation in the late 1990's in the Yucatan.

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