Leadership is an influence process, and effective leaders share power and authority because they know that people support what they help to create.
The Chamber of Commerce and the City of Newport Beach named Jean Watt Citizen of Year this past week because her efforts to improve our quality of life in Newport have been ongoing since 1974 when she joined Claudia Hirsch in organizing SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport), then getting elected to the Newport Beach City Council in 1988. Since that time she became founder and president of the Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, and fund development chairman for the Environmental Nature Center, a Board Member of Air Fair and other local organizations that strive to maintain the best quality of life possible for the citizens of Newport and its future citizens.
The celebration took place at the Balboa Bay Resort. Jean was joined by her family, former and current councilmembers, as well as friends and colleagues on local citizen boards who have witnessed and experienced her tireless efforts to promote local leaders to support environmental issues and causes that impact all residents.
This recognition was long overdue for a person who has given so much of her time, energy, and personal resources to the community. I was proud to be a part of recognizing a trailblazer with such remarkable character and resolve to do the right thing no matter the consequences and personal toll it takes to be such an active leader on so many committees and boards.
As we look back 50 years ago this week at the Presidency of John F. Kennedy and the commitment of Jean to our city and so many others, we are asked to recognize the value and necessity of public service and to call on everyone in our community to find a way to improve our city. Public service is as vital now as it was then.
What is different is the benefit of social media tools that can be used to get messages out and gather people for beach cleanup, desiminate information about keeping our water clean free of toxins, and promote local citizen practices that keep the city clean.
It is the responsibility of all of us to pick up our trash and to dispose of chemical and toxic waste properly.
The most powerful tool we can use to encourage adults and children to give back is modeling our actions through joining others serving on committees, task forces, giving time, recognizing those that do, and allowing citizens with expertise, different values and beliefs, to be chosen for city and county roles in government.
Mayor Keith Curry pointed out through his work with Jean that she was a person that you would seek out for a perspective on issues and ideas, and she also wisely put together all kinds of people to get things done. He also noted that her work goes beyond the borders of Newport Beach. Others spoke of her ability to build a compelling case for anything, as well as being an independent thinker. Former Mayor Evelyn Hart has know Jean for 57 years and described her as “beacon of caring.”
What is truly remarkable about Jean’s leadership, which sets her apart from most leaders and makes her a great leader, is her understanding that successful leaders give credit to others and those who help make the vision a reality.
Jean humbly started her acceptance speech and ended it naming the people and groups who made the goals take root and change the face of our landscape in Newport for many decades.
She is all about the change and results clearly understanding that we need to involve many people to take the role of being those that function behind the scenes, below the surface, and on the front lines to make the vision happen.
She is politically astute and profoundly intelligent. She impacts our environment in Newport Beach through and with the support of her husband, children, the Beek family, SPON, Paul Salata, Bill Ficker, Scott Paulson, Marian Bergeson, Marshall Duffield Senior, and many others who became convinced that her mission and causes would make our city a better place to work, live, and play.
Stewardship is defined in Peter Block’s book “Stewardship” as choosing service over self-interest. “It is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization (our city) by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us.
Thank you Jean for promoting, encouraging, and recruiting many outstanding citizens to be stewards of our environment.
That is My Take
Gloria J. Alkire