Interviewed by: Cathy Horn
A year ago, Hyde Park lost one of its environmental champions, Barbara Baxter. For decades Barbara did so much to help make Hyde Park clean, green, and beautiful. She is, and always will be, an inspiration to those of us still trying to do this work. On the one year anniversary of her passing, we honor Barbara’s memory and contributions to the community by sharing the memories of two friends who worked closely with her on these environmental projects: Martha McDonough and Rita Walsh. If Keep Hyde Park Beautiful can accomplish a fraction of what Barbara Baxter, and collectively these three women have accomplished, we will have succeeded.
How did you meet Barbara?
Rita- I grew up in Jamaica Plain, and I met Barbara after I moved to Hyde Park.
Martha- I met Barbara sometime, after I retired in 2004. Readville was fighting a massive development at the Stop & Shop Warehouse complex, where they were trying to put in a 1500 - 1800 housing development. I went to a Neponset Greenways Council Meeting looking for support and help. Barbara stopped the meeting when I arrived to introduce me to the Council. I had no idea who Barbara was, but she was expecting me because of what Rita told her.
What Hyde Park projects did you work on together?
Rita- You got an hour? We fought so many battles together and we enjoyed the battles! Every year it was something! It was terrible, but we had fun. The first was Lewis Chemical, which became a Brownfield Site due to dangerous contamination. Later, we fought tooth and nail to stop the Nott Street Development because of its proximity to this Brownfield Site. There were going to be kids living in this development and we weren’t going to let that happen. Martha adds, “The sediment is loaded with PCB’s that continue to pollute downstream, along with VOC’s and other dangerous contaminants. The contamination is still there.”
Martha- I joined Boston Natural Area Network (BNAN) and the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA) and both Barbara and Rita were members. They wanted a citizen’s advisory committee for the dam removal on the Neponset. I battled my way onto that committee. I paddled the Neponset and noticed how beautiful it was, but it was also trashed. The image that has stayed with me is the shopping cart I saw in the river with a great blue heron perched on it. We tried to get the city and state to clean up the river, but eventually partnered with NepRWA to begin the annual Neponset River Cleanup event about eight years ago. Barbara was there every step of the way and she was a force to be reckoned with. She was petrified of the water, and would never go in the water, but, by God, she worked her tail off to get us everything we needed and it was a long list - first aid, supplies, bags, etc.. She hit up all the businesses with Rita. She would go to the supermarket managers and show them photos of the shopping carts in the river. She would follow up with them constantly, and let them know we needed their help. She was also good at getting publicity for the Neponset River cleanup, especially when two cars were found and pulled out of the river. One had been there for 40 years and another for 20 years. Barbara worked the phones from her daughter’s home in New Hampshire to make sure people knew the story.When a canoe launch was installed at Martini Shell Park, Barbara helped us find a kid that almost sank into the mud at the launch. Her efforts to find that child and get his family involved was instrumental in getting the environmental netting installed at the launch.
The three of us also started Hyde Park’s community garden. We scouted out locations together and settled on Factory Hill. We got it up and running in 6 months, which is unheard of. We had no money, Barbara went out and got donations of the supplies we needed. This was before the technology we have today, so it required boots on the ground: a lot of time walking around, attending meetings and working the phones. The three of us won a Good Neighbor award in Dorchester and all the prize money went towards the garden and getting a garden shed.
What is your favorite memory of working with Barbara on these projects?
Rita- We always laughed! As bad as everything seems, we were always in good spirits! That’s what I remember. Especially when Martha would leave us in the woods. It was hard for Barbara with the walking, but she did it. She wasn’t afraid to go after anything. The only problem was, she dragged us with her!
Martha- There are so many memories. What I really remember about Barbara was her ability to build up a network of people who could help with different things. Everyone knew her and respected her. Barbara touched so many people and especially those who work so hard maintaining our open spaces. She always went out of her way to let them know that their work was so appreciated and how much the community enjoyed these spaces. More people need to follow her lead and simply speak to people with praise rather than demands.
How would you describe the impact of Barbara's contributions to the community?
Martha- Look around you. Barbara’s contributions can be seen everywhere in this community. If she could make a difference, she would.
Rita- When Barbara set her mind to something she would follow through. People saw that she was doing all these things, and they knew that she was exceptional. There aren’t too many people who do the things that she did. She never looked for credit.
Martha- She was a go-to person for people in the community who were having problems, especially environmental issues. Barbara could make a difference by making a call to someone in her network. She would show up to every Hyde Park Neighborhood Association meeting and just listen to the issues people were having. Then, if there was something she could make a difference on, she would.
Rita- I remember Barbara would go around and fill all the Toys for Tots boxes if they were empty.
Martha- I used to drive her to go shopping at places like Ocean State Job Lot. Barbara’s basket would be filled with stuff to donate to kids in need. She never had stuff for herself; it was always for the kids.
What were her hopes for the future of Hyde Park? Were there any projects she was working on that have yet to be accomplished?
Rita- Thousands! Her only desire was for Hyde Park to go higher and higher.
Martha- The Martini Shell was very important to her because of the open space and the fact that it was dedicated to a veteran. Barbara had family members in the armed services, including her husband, and she was passionate about veterans causes. There was also a veteran’s memorial square near where Barbara lived - the Cecil W. Fogg Square on Hyde Park Ave. - and she always wanted to see that square cared for and beautified. Barbara was involved in so many things: the Hyde Park Historical Society, Martini Shell, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, her church, and veterans causes. The list goes on. She worked tirelessly on behalf of Hyde Park’s civic groups.
Rita- She was very involved in Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day efforts. She looked forward to these days. She would buy up every American flag she could find! She would also go around to the different veteran memorials around Hyde Park and if there wasn’t a sign there, god help someone! She liked to remember people and honor them.
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Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.