Column: Mark Abner returning to Georgia to lead Nature Conservancy

By Maria Saporta
Friday, Sept. 23, 2011

The Nature Conservancy’s Georgia chapter has a new executive director — Mark Abner, who is coming back home.

Abner, who most recently was director of philanthropy for the Nature Conservancy’s mid-Atlantic States operations in the Washington, D.C., area, was born in Jesup, Ga., where his family had lived for 200 years.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places that were not home,” said Abner, who left Georgia in 1988 after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Emory University. He received his master’s degree in environmental studies from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. He moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, where he worked for the University of Minnesota Foundation and the Trust For Public Land.

Then in 2009, he and his wife, Gabrielle Horner, both took jobs with the Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

Shortly thereafter, Abner began to “idealize” the possibility of becoming the conservancy’s director in Georgia years down the road. At the time, Shelly Lakly was director of the Georgia operations, and it appeared she was here to stay.

But on July 1, Lakly became the Nature Conservancy’s director in Florida.

“The more I learned about the job, the more I decided I really wanted it,” Abner said.

Abner’s passion for conservation and his interest in being state director was recognized by the search committee.

“Everything he’s done lends itself to this position,” said Jeannie Wright, board chair of the Nature Conservancy in Georgia, who is a community leader. “He has had excellent preparation.”

Abner, who has been close to the land since growing up in Wayne County, said the opportunity for conservation in Georgia is significant.

“A lot of states on the East Coast don’t have large blocks of land available,” Abner said. “In Georgia, there are still opportunities to conserve large tracts of land. But we’ve got to act fast.”

The conservancy has three focus areas in Georgia — protecting the state’s coastal areas and marine life; conserving Georgia’s unique longleaf pine forests; and continuing its efforts to preserve the state’s fresh water resources — largely by acquiring land along its rivers.

The Nature Conservancy, founded in 1951, now has operations in 33 countries, and has had a Georgia office since 1987. Tavia McCuean ran the office for nearly 20 years. Today, the chapter has 34 employees and has protected 295,668 acres in Georgia.

New chamber spokesperson

The Metro Atlanta Chamber has named Bari Love as its new senior vice president of communications and marketing, beginning Oct. 3.

Love, most recently a partner with Jackson Spalding Public Relations, has had more than three decades of communications and marketing experience in Atlanta. She succeeds Esther Campi, who recently moved to North Carolina.

“Bari is a veteran,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “She knows the community. She knows the leading editors and reporters. She’s been a consultant for us on some projects. And she has a lot of experience in social media.”

Search consultant Joe Goodwin worked with the chamber, which looked at 32 candidates for the position. “She was the unanimous choice of our top management team,” Williams said. “We had five finalists. She was by far the leading candidate.”

The Metro Atlanta Chamber has 4,000 members, and Williams said that Love will help with the organization’s economic development efforts as well as its public policy initiatives.

In addition to Jackson Spalding, Love was managing partner for Ogilvy PR Atlanta; an executive vice president of Fletcher Martin Ewing; vice president with Julie Davis Associates/Fitzgerald+CO; and interim vice president of community engagement for metro Atlanta’s United Way. Love also was involved in the city’s Brand Atlanta efforts.

EarthShare campaign

EarthShare of Georgia is kicking off its employee-giving campaigns this month to help raise funding for more than 60 environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1992, EarthShare of Georgia has raised nearly $4 million for environmental organizations in the state.

“Making a payroll contribution to help support one or more environmental and conservation charities is a smart and simple way to protect and conserve our air, land and water for future generations,” said Madeline Reamy, executive director of EarthShare of Georgia.

Families First adds to board

Georgia’s Families First has added six people to its board.

They are Dave Cole, an IBM Corp. vice president of inside sales for North America; Marybeth Leamer, an executive vice president of human resources and administration for Cox Enterprises Inc.; Valerie Munnings, a community volunteer and advocate; Justice David Nahmias of the Georgia Supreme Court; Dawn Rock, a vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia; and Mike Siegel, a senior vice president of CredAbility.

The 2011-2012 board chair of Families first is Felicia Speetjens, a senior vice president of SunTrust Banks Inc.

Dunn good

The Warrick Dunn Family Foundation has appointed Deborah King its new director of development.

Also, Amanda Hamman has been promoted to community relations coordinator. The foundation, founded by the former Atlanta Falcons running back and current minority owner of the team, provides opportunities for economically disadvantaged single parents and children.

Warhol grant

The Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center received a $50,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The grant will support the center’s technology initiative.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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