Inspired Living: Heidi McCree
by Mary Kelley Hoppe
On a sunny January morning at a south Tampa eatery, Heidi McCree holds court in a fast-flowing conversation on water and environmental stewardship, reflecting the values she brings to her post on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board, where she has just completed a term as chairperson.
One of her breakfast companions looks up from a cupcake slathered in pastel frosting and sprinkles. McCree’s daughter, Elizabeth, 2, smiles. A beaming McCree smiles back, noting that her kids are a huge source of inspiration. McCree and her husband, Doug, adopted Elizabeth and her big brother, Alexander, 8, from Russia.
“I really do look at my little children and hope to motivate them to grow up to be successful citizens of our community,” says McCree, whose own parents shaped her core values and interests. The eldest of three children, McCree grew up in upstate New York in Cazenovia, a bucolic township surrounded by dairy farms, apple orchards and ski resorts. Her mother returned to school in the 1970s to obtain a master’s degree in resource management. Her dad was a small-town journalist who later established a business restoring old homes. McCree grew up in a farmhouse built in 1818.
After attending college in Nashville at Vanderbilt University, where she majored in political science and history, she earned her law degree at George Mason University in Washington, D.C. After passing the Maryland bar exam, she flirted briefly with the idea of entering private practice but ultimately couldn’t resist the allure of public policy. McCree became assistant director of the Chesapeake Bay Program serving for three years under two governors, all the while promoting volunteerism and working to develop a watershed education strategy to engage citizens in policymaking.
In 1995, after relocating to Tampa, McCree went to work for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, eventually becoming director of the Hillsborough River Greenways Task Force.
“It was an invigorating experience. So many challenges we face can be solved by bringing parties together, rolling up our sleeves, and working out the issues.”
That passion for consensus building, coupled with her extensive knowledge of environmental issues, pushed McCree to the top of the list of candidates being considered to fill a vacancy on the water management district governing board in 2000. When the call came from the governor’s office, she had just resigned from the Greenways Task Force to devote more time to her newly adopted son. The opportunity to stay immersed in the issues she cared so deeply about proved irresistible, and she accepted an appointment to the board that September.
In 2005, she was unanimously elected chair of the governing board, becoming the first female in history to assume the post. McCree recalls a defining moment of her chairmanship when the district and Tampa Bay Water were hammering out the details of their renewed partnership agreement. “Not a lot of people understood how tenuous the situation was,” she says, of the organizations’efforts to define roles and responsibilities. “I’m proud that we were able to navigate through the process and emerge stronger.”
McCree reserves some of her greatest enthusiasm for land conservation “every time we close a deal” for the purchase or conservation easement of environmentally sensitive lands. “The permanency of what we’re doing preserving the land forever is so important, but it’s getting tougher to make the deals work as land becomes scarce and cost prohibitive.” McCree also serves on the board of the Tampa Bay Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the region’s natural, agricultural and scenic heritage.
McCree says she draws inspiration from the people around her, and judging by the enthusiasm she brings to each task at hand from governing board duties to parenting two energetic bundles of potential she’s surrounding herself with the right people. “I’m motivated by all the great people I interact with, people who are figuring out ways to creatively and positively resolve issues.”
“I’ve got so much to be thankful for.”
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