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The Planet

    The Planet
    July/August 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

    Wild Road to the Presidency

    by Jenny Coyle

    Chuck McGrady joined the Sierra Club in 1979 to go on outings and make new friends. An attorney in Georgia, he learned at a chapter meeting that a group of Canadian clean-air activists would be in town to organize a rally, so he volunteered to get them a parade permit. When he heard they needed a place to stay, he offered his home.

    "After the event, they left their materials behind, so I became our chapter's clean-air expert. That's how it started," said McGrady.

    Little did he know that such is the stuff presidents are made of. McGrady was appointed in 1997 to fill Dave Foreman's vacated seat on the Club Board of Directors. He was re-elected this spring, and in May, fellow board members chose him as president.

    McGrady feels strongly about introducing today's youth to environmental ethics and activism -- in 1993 he gave up law and moved his family to North Carolina to run a boys' summer camp.

    McGrady's love for the natural world took root at such a camp where as a boy he spent summers under the stars, in the woods and on the lakes of western North Carolina.

    "Kids put everything together intuitively," he said. "If we can just get them out here, then when they become county commissioners and state legislators they'll understand how it all fits together."

    McGrady will hold them accountable.

    "Working with the public officials you already have often isn't enough. You've got to elect good people to replace bad people, or change their behavior by putting pressure on them. That's the work I'm most passionate about."

    In the coming year, however, much of McGrady's focus will be internal, nurturing unity within the Club and working to integrate programs when it makes sense -- like the San Diego Chapter's "One Club" project that arranges outings during which participants write letters urging protection for threatened places.

    As one whose path in the Club led from outings to activism, McGrady knows how effective the combination can be.

    "The Club is empowering," he said. "Someone who was accidentally recruited into leadership finds himself president. That's pretty wild."

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