Scottish poet Alexander Smith once penned, "A man doesn't plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity."
So too is the mission of Bartow County's environmental programs, planning for a future in which developmental and environmental concerns blend seamlessly. The first county in the nation to form an Environmental Management System, Bartow County's Office of Environmental Programs offers awareness, education and action through various cleanups and outreach events throughout the year.
On Friday, Georgia celebrated Arbor Day and Phillips, alongside area volunteers, handed out free trees to those wishing to do their part in beautifying Bartow County. The annual event, just as Phillips does each day, aims to increase tree populations amid the continuous threat of over-development.
With a varied background of diverse experience, Phillips has returned to Bartow in a pursuit she finds rewarding -- taking comfort in the fact that her work will have a lasting impact.
Name: Melissa "Missy" Phillips
Occupation/Title: Acting Director Bartow County Environmental Programs
City of residence: I live between Kingston and Adairsville in the area known as Halls Station
Family: Husband, Malcom for 32 years; two sons and daughter-in-laws, Jeremiah and Shanon Phillips, and Nathaniel "Thumper" and Ami Phillips; two grandchildren, Addie Phillips (almost 3) and Cason Phillips (6 months).
Education: After graduating from Marietta High School in 1974 I studied business at Marietta Vocational Tech. I then worked as a secretary while I studied public relations/communications at Kennesaw College. In each of these schools I received knowledge. But school is only the beginning of education. Knowledge is converted into actual skills by applying that knowledge. I have been lucky enough to have had such a wide variety of jobs that I have acquired a very diverse set of skills. Having a job that requires you to use many skills is never boring.
What sets Bartow County apart in the area of natural resources?
A. We're lucky to have a large county as far as land mass and that much of it is still rural. Open and forested lands create not only a prettier place to live but a healthier one as well. We're also very lucky to have many natural water sources in the form of underground springs, creeks and lakes. The Etowah River and Lake Allatoona are incredibly important assets in maintaining sustainability.
What led you to the field of environmental management?
A. I feel I must just be really lucky. I was taught early on by a nature loving parent that the natural world was wonderful and the source of all science. It was so natural to me that I had no idea that not everyone knew it. I collected rocks and wondered why they weren't the same. I collected pine cones and wondered why they didn't all look alike.
My dad fostered this curiosity. When on adventures with him I identified buck eyes, walnuts, sweet shrubs and more. The most important find I ever made was a pine cone that took me 30 years and the Internet to identify. It came from a digger pine that grows only in a certain portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. This cone was large, thick and squat and had been left in my yard in Marietta. My father worked for Lockheed and had friends from Lockheed California so I had a notion I knew what part of the world and finally found it on the Internet.
Wondering all these years about its provenance actually drove my continuing interest in environmental diversity. Of course, knowing Sheri Henshaw of Keep Bartow Beautiful, at the time when a Georgia Forestry Grant had been won to pay for a position, was also quite fortunate.
What has been the most rewarding part of your role in the community?
A. I'm proud to have been a small part of the larger environmental legacy that Commissioner [Clarence] Brown is leaving for Bartow. I know that the positive impact of what I do here in regards to environmental programs will continue to affect the future of Bartow long after my name has been forgotten. And nothing is better than knowing that.
What would you consider your greatest personal or professional achievement?
A. I am most proud of my children. They grew into responsible adults whom I would really like even if I weren't their mother. I am also very proud of every event or educational program I have been a part of, not only because of the impact or change in behaviors that I see, but also because I believe it's not possible to know or quantify every consequence. Sometimes we only plant seeds; realizations that grow to fruition over time.
What is the best advice you've ever been given?
A. I remember my dad saying, "If you break even, quit while you're ahead." Knowing my dad, I believe it was his dry way of saying that, though it's often tough, you should always try to maintain balance.
What would most people be surprised to learn about you?
A. People might be surprised how adaptive I am and how diverse my work history is. I've been a night time dispatcher for the Marietta Police Department. I've literally been around the world and experienced many cultures while working as a Pan American Flight Attendant. I've driven lift trucks in a warehouse and written industry related technical manuals.
Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?
A. OK I know this sounds corny but the answer is -- wherever there are trees. I feel the most balanced and the most renewed while among them. In the absence of anything that is man-made and in the absence of all the noise that man-made things make, I hear and feel the real world. And I remember that this is what sustains the places where we live because our homes, our towns, our cities are temporary. They exist in the world of the trees and not the other way around.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
A. Conscientious, Trust Worthy, and both Analytical and Creative at the same time.
If you were not in this line of work, what would you like to do?
A. In high school, I formed my own theater group. We would have the elementary schools bus their classes in to the high school auditorium and perform plays for them. I wrote the scripts and I usually used already well-known characters, such as Charlie Brown.
The one I liked the best was the stage script I wrote for "The Giving Tree." In hindsight that could have been prophetic of where I would finally find myself. But if I were not in this line of work, I would like to either be doing something theatrical, educational or both; maybe a commentator for NPR radio.