A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices

Inside Appalachian Voices

A Fond Farewell for a Fantastic Leader

Christina Howe and Willa Mays

In October of 2008, I met an extraordinary person at the Appalachian Voices headquarters in Boone, N.C. She’d been hired as an organizational consultant, and I was a new member of the board. It was immediately clear that Willa Mays was a consummate professional — diplomatic, extremely smart, a person of great presence, and a joy to be with.

As her contract work with us drew to a close, we realized we couldn’t let her get away. We appealed to her to assume the newly vacated role of executive director of Appalachian Voices, and the success story began.

On the March for Blair Mountain

Willa speaking at Artists for Appalachia

For four years, Willa has been an exemplary leader, both within Appalachian Voices and in the broader environmental community. She re-energized our staff and board with her enthusiasm, hard work and vision, challenging us all to do our very best. She traveled frequently to our other offices to make sure all Appalachian Voices staff had input and were solidly a part of our team. With grace and humor, she cultivated friends of Appalachia from all backgrounds — volunteers, members and partners. She put our fundraising house in order and developed relationships with funding partners that will last for years to come. She dove into the nitty-gritty of our legal cases, water quality monitoring program and legislation efforts to become a well-versed spokeswoman for our work. The passion she already possessed in spades.

Like the seasons change across the Appalachian mountains, life, too, brings transitions. It is with utmost gratitude and esteem that I, on behalf of the Appalachian Voices board, bid Willa adieu as she moves on to her next chapter with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, where she worked before coming to us. Thank you, Willa, for your caring custodianship.
We wish you the very best!

Clockwise from top left: Willa with advisory board member Van Jones, Willa emceeing at Riverfest 2011, With Senator Ben Cardin at the Democratic National Convention, Willa With Amanda Starbuck of Rainforest Action Network

When one door closes, another opens … It is my great pleasure to welcome Tom Cormons as our new executive director. Five years ago, Tom joined Appalachian Voices to open our Virginia office. He came with an impressive pedigree – an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, a UCLA law degree and stints at several other organizations learning the ropes. Under his leadership, our Virginia office has grown to six staff, and Appalachian Voices is front-and-center in some of the most pressing environmental issues in Virginia. For the last two years, Tom has been our deputy programs director, working closely with Willa and Director of Programs Matt Wasson to oversee operations and map out our strategic work plan for the next several years.

In his younger years, Tom was a rafting guide on West Virginia’s New and Gauley rivers, ably navigating the rapids and shoals of two of the most wild rivers in the country. We are delighted and excited to have Tom as our new executive director, fully confident in his ability to now guide Appalachian Voices as our journey continues.

For the mountains,
Christina Howe
Chair, Appalachian Voices
Board of Directors