Remembering Marian Heiskell

Founding Board Member and Driving Force for the Green Space Movement

Monday, March 18-- “We all know the saying that ‘to those who much is given, much is expected.’ Marian knew that she had privilege and wealth and she used it to create access to the environment for all New Yorkers,” said David Yarnold, President and CEO @david_yarnold of National Audubon Society. “She was a civic leader for the ages.”

Heiskell will be best remembered for her work with Audubon as a founding board member of Audubon New York (1999-2019) and longtime board member of the National Audubon Society (1982-2001). For over 30 years, Marian remained devoted to fulfilling Audubon’s mission. Her contributions were invaluable to the earliest successes of the state office, and helped guide the national vision.

“Marian was one of New York’s leading champions for the environment and a driving force behind the urban green space movement. Her guidance and wisdom were priceless to some of the most significant conservation accomplishments of the last 50 years,” said Ana Paula Tavares, executive director of Audubon New York. “She was a beloved member of our Audubon family, and will be deeply missed by all.” 

As a lifelong conservationist and philanthropist, Marian was the recipient of two of Audubon’s highest honors—the Thomas W. Keesee, Jr. Conservation Award and the Rachel Carson Award. 

In 2004, Audubon New York presented Marian with the Thomas W. Keesee, Jr. Conservation Award to honor her remarkable leadership and commitment to birds and the places they need in New York State.

In 2013, Marian was honored with the Rachel Carson Award at the annual Audubon Women in Conservation Luncheon for her work to advance conservation locally and globally. Her pioneering efforts to clean up New York City through the Council on the Environment of New York galvanized into GrowNYC, an organization which brought farmers markets to the city, built community gardens, and taught young people about the environment. She was also a driving force behind the restoration of 42nd Street and Times Square.

At the Women in Conservation event, Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold helped celebrate Marian’s legacy of leadership: “Women helped start Audubon a hundred years ago and have played a leading role in conservation ever since. That’s what we’re celebrating today – women like Marian Heiskell… who have truly made a difference. We hope that by honoring their example, we’ll inspire the next generation of women and girls to aim high.”

 “If I did all that, half of it must have been in my sleep” Marian joked in her acceptance speech for the award.

As everyone at Audubon who had the privilege to work with Marian knew, her extraordinary commitment, warm demeanor, genuine enthusiasm, keen intellect and ability to get any job done made her a legend of conservation in New York and beyond. We are grateful to have been the recipients of her energy and passion for over thirty years. Her memory will live on in our hearts, and with all birds that depend on green space to thrive.