Some people are simply known by their initials.
The initials of MJ are enough to signal the greatness of Michael Jordan, the famed basketball player. In the world of conservation, MOB carries the same level of awe. Magalen Ohrstrom Bryant (MOB) was a force of nature whose impact spanned both local and global reaches of conservation.
The best way to understand MOB is to think of a great oak tree whose branches reach across time and territory. From Africa to South America to Europe to Central America to the Mississippi Delta to right here in Middleburg, MOB was a tour de force for conservation.
One time she walked into the office and told us she wanted us to borrow an old oil tanker. She proceeded to give us Sir John Brown’s (CEO of BP) contact number. As directed, we called his office to borrow an old oil tanker because MOB wanted to move excess elephants from Kruger National Park to Angola. Why? Angola had just gone through a nasty civil war where they decimated much of the wildlife. While Sir John Brown was unable to supply the tanker for what we called “Project Noah’s Ark,” we would transport elephant groups via plane. MOB saw obstacles as opportunities for solutions.
MOB cared deeply about people and wildlife. One time while the Dulles Greenway was being built, she traveled to South America. She wanted to save the Scarlet Macaw. In typical fashion, she bought a significant reserve of property to help the critical habitat. Landing back at Dulles Airport, she quickly lamented that she just came from the rain forest. Learning that the bankers in NY were raising a stink, she jetted off to NYC. On her way out, she grabbed her horsewhip and left for NYC. She wore her beliefs on her sleeve.
MOB had tremendous conviction and vision. With horsewhip in hand and passion in her veins, she put the NY bankers on notice and promptly returned for dinner in Virginia. Barriers or obstacles only fueled her passion to “make it happen.”
And she made things happen in different ways. So many of us in the area have been invited to various dinners of hers, whether for Wildlife in Europe or Earth College in Costa Rica. We called these dinners “Sing for Your Supper.” One of the creative genius points of MOB was to invite a wide cross-section of guests. At the beginning of the event, she would ask everyone to state their name, what they did, and their passion. Invariably, the last question would create new linkages across the room where people who normally would never have reason to connect all of a sudden made a beeline to one another. MOB was like a chess player. She relished creating the art of the possible.
As MOB often sat on her veranda overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains from Locust Hill – whether, for a tomato sandwich fresh from the garden or a sundowner watching the hues of color splash across our Piedmont, she would speak to the need to conserve and restore the landscape by getting private landowners involved and utilizing the private market.
As a former Chairwoman of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, she built what would become the central bank of conservation in the US. MOB was also the first Chair of Environmental Resources Trust (now the American Carbon Registry). She knew putting a price and value on nature was the only way we could start to make conservation pay. That was 1996. Twenty-five years later, world leaders such as Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of England, are building upon her clarion call to action by demanding that private companies scale these new market platforms by 15x between now and 2030.
I have been lucky to have had a front seat to witness her passion and her amazing children, who in different ways carry forward her legacy and willpower. In conservation, Michael Crane led the building of the Dulles Greenway as an environmental highway second to none for Virginia and the Nation. Carey Crane has pioneered a particular pathway for scaling carbon removal by creating a revolution in reforestation. Together, Carey and our company have built a global solution. But this solution did not come out of the blue. It was forged in part through will, belief, and the passion of the unstoppable MOB.
Like a giant oak, MOB has cast her branches across many fields of interest and lands – both far and near. She has dropped her acorns, provided shade, and nurtured them in hopes new ideas would spring forth in our ever-unfolding story of creation. We all are blessed to have known MOB—- a true force of nature for our community, country, and the world. Now, it is our turn to do as she would do so.
After all, life is not a dress rehearsal. The best way to honor MOB is to put a dent in the universe and its future!