Justine Mee Liff
So many Bostonians remember Justine’s green sneakers. What better trademark for a tree-hugging parks commissioner? But I also like to remember the four-inch high-heeled shoes – Charles Jourdan from Filene’s Basement, thank you very much. A tall and elegant presence, she would stride into Maison Robert, the restaurant close to City Hall where we were having lunch, with a wide and warm smile, apologizing for running a few minutes late because of one meeting or another. Slipping gracefully into her seat, she would ask how you were – no really, how are you? – and listen carefully for the answer, hearing what was between the lines, before getting to the business at hand discussing whatever public policy issue was front and center that day.
Justine had an extraordinary degree of emotional intelligence. She could read a room full of people or a single individual like no one I’ve ever known. For me, that was at the heart of her success professionally and personally. And she put that heart into everything she took on at the Parks Department and at the sprawling mansard in Jamaica Plain where she made a home with her husband, Stephen, and three daughters, Ursula, Ingrid and Olivia. This is not to suggest that Justine didn’t have a keen intellect or wasn’t a strategic thinker. She was clear and thoughtful, and she could spot a phony from a mile away and explain why with a wry, often sardonic, aside.
Over the course of the 18 years that Justine was my friend, I watched her grow in confidence and skill and vision. She loved her job at the Parks Department. She loved her colleagues and co-workers. She loved Mayor Tom Menino who appointed her to the job. Most of all, she really loved the city’s parks and what they meant for the people, the citizens who use them. “When parks work we come together, we are one Boston,” she once said. In that spirit, she took on the restoration of the Muddy River, the founding of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the creation of the ParkARTS program, the transformation of Millennium Park and so many other initiatives that defined her tenure.
Simply put, Justine’s leadership was inclusive and collaborative… and downright contagious. The mayor likes to tell the story that she was the only person in his cabinet that he could not say “no” to. The truth of the matter is that no one could really say “no” to Justine – except maybe members of her immediate family. No one else wanted to. She drew you in and held you close to the moment of what she believed in with a joyful sense of urgency. There was no getting around it: You just said “yes” and joined her cause.
Join us at Cocktails in the Park
to benefit the Justine Mee Liff Fund for the Emerald Necklace
September 22, 2021
For more Party in the Park information, contact Jamie Santuccio.