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Wendy Batson: A Thoughtful Leader

Wendy Batson on the Aramingo

Whether a result of her Quaker upbringing or because she came of age in the cauldron of the 1960s, Wendy Batson has been committed to causes throughout her life and has backed up her beliefs with hard work.

That effort has taken Wendy from the front lines of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam conflict, to the killing fields of Laos, the border of Afghanistan and, ultimately, the more peaceful shores of Maine.

“I was a classic ‘60s kid,” Wendy said recently while reflecting on her past over lunch. “I was on a certain path, and that path kind of went awry. I was fortunate to grow up in a very interesting time.”

Those interesting times continue today as Wendy wraps up three years as president of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s Board of Trustees this July. The myriad skills and “can-do” attitude that Wendy developed during decades of work in worldwide humanitarian organizations served her—and HHLT—well during a period of dynamic growth and change for the land trust.

“In the last three years, HHLT hired a new executive director, enlarged the staff, expanded programming and acquired several large properties,” said Tim McCreight, vice president of the Board of Trustees. “Throughout it all, Wendy has provided valuable analysis of complex issues and unflappable good cheer. We have been fortunate to have her steady hand on the tiller.”

Wendy’s journey to Harpswell started in Chicago, her family’s hometown, and continued in Kansas City, Missouri, where her family moved when she was 6. She graduated from high school in 1967 and attended Grinnell College before dropping out to protest against the Indochina wars.

That path led her to the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, founded by Joan Baez, and later to the United Farm Workers, where she worked with Cesar Chavez until 1976, when she moved to San Francisco to complete her education. Wendy recalled that Chavez warned her that she was “bad wife material,” but fortunately, the late organizing icon wasn’t such a great marriage counselor. In the Bay Area, Wendy met her husband, Bob Eaton, a fellow Quaker, who had just gotten out of jail for resisting the draft. They remain happily married today.

After Wendy received her BA in American History from UC-Berkeley in 1979, she and Bob were accepted for an American Friends Service Committee mission to Laos for what they thought would be a two-year sojourn before returning to their earlier career plans, a PhD in history for Wendy. The couple spent four years working to help the war-ravaged country recover from some of the heaviest bombing in history.

While there, Wendy and Bob had a moment of clarity. “We realized, ‘I think this is what we do!’” Wendy remembered. They had found a “calling” that they followed for the rest of their professional lives. That path led Bob to the United Nations’ Development Program and Wendy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where both worked to help rebuild Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviets left. They lived in Islamabad, Pakistan, with their four children (who are all now grown and working for various nonprofits) for more than five years.

Wendy loves spending time in the outdoors.

They returned to the US and lived in Takoma Park, Maryland, where Wendy worked with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation setting up rehab centers in post-conflict countries as part of the campaign to ban land mines. She then spent eight years as executive director of Handicapped International US (now Humanity and Inclusion), helping to guide post-war reconstruction in low-income countries, before retiring in 2011.

Asked how she found her way to Maine, Wendy replied: “Because I married a sailor!” Bob developed a love for the water while sailing medical supplies to both North and South Vietnamese civilians in the South China Sea. The couple had rented a property in Phippsburg for 20 years before discovering Harpswell.

“The first real estate agent we met with showed us a tiny house on 50 acres along the New Meadows River near Cundy’s Harbor,” Wendy recalled. The property came with a deep-water mooring perfect for the couple’s beloved 42-foot Malabar schooner, Aramingo, and various other vessels. The world travelers renovated the house to make it, and Harpswell, their forever home.

But the drive to contribute to the community continued unabated. At the behest of Mary Ann Nahf, Wendy joined the town’s Conservation Commission and then became an HHLT trustee in 2018. She said that her work with the land trust has given her a much better understanding of Harpswell and its people.

“This town is a microcosm of many of the major challenges facing our whole country,” Wendy said. “Conserving the working waterfront and finding affordable housing while the cost of land is soaring are thorny issues. The key is finding common ground.”

Wendy said she was pleased to have been at the helm of HHLT as its staff grew and the land trust’s role in the community expanded. “I’m particularly proud of the partnerships we’re engaged in,” she said. She pointed to the joint publication of “Scuttlebutt: A Guide to Living & Working in a Waterfront Community” as a prime example.

Wendy said she will happily continue to serve as a trustee and remain “on call for anything that gets tricky.”
That’s good news for HHLT and its members, according to Julia McLeod, HHLT’s executive director. “Wendy’s considerable experience, skills and thoughtfulness have made her a very effective president,” Julia said. “When presented with challenges large and small, she took the time to consider multiple voices, gather data and emphasize collaboration. The land trust has been lucky to have her!”