Who is this firebrand?

(A story about Van Rossum's new book has been posted to this page.)

Maya van Rossum was born far away in India, but since coming back to Pennsylvania when she was 18 months old, she hasn't strayed too far from the Delaware River watershed.

She grew up in Villanova, Pa., and the stream she knew best growing up was the Ithan Creek, a tributary of Darby Creek, itself a tributary of the Delaware.

"Early on I had an affinity for water," she said, "and for the critters that live in or near the water."

Listen to the first words of her book -- the acknowledgments:

"I wish to express my immense gratitude to my beautiful Delaware River and to all of the streams, plants, soil, critters, and watershed communities that inspire me..."

Two things to notice: First, it's more than just human welfare for van Rossum. Second, note the use of the possessive pronoun "my" when she talks about the Delaware. She does that even when she's chatting about this river.

It's not surprising that she's the Delaware Riverkeeper.

Another thing to notice: She speaks easily and authoritatively about all the issues that she's intensely interested in, but smiles just as easily and is quick to engage with the people who've come to hear her speak.

She didn't set out to become the Riverkeeper. In fact, although she had a early aptitude for environmental advocacy, she didn't realize that was a thing you could do until a conversation with a college professor when she was an undergrad at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. She was already interested in law and figured that a law degree might be a good thing to have as an environmental activist.

So she pursued a law degree at Pace University, in Westchester County, New York -- going there because of its environmental law specialization. After that, she became a staff attorney for the environmental law clinic of Widener University in Chester, Pa., where, as part of the deal, she obtained her L.L.M. (Master of Laws).

While there, she was approached about coming to the Delaware Riverkeeper organization, and she's been there for 23 years.

She is both the Riverkeeper and the executive director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. "I have a certain way I manage the organization. It's river-driven. The advocacy work and the organization is all integrated." She gets to figure out what funding is OK to take and what to be involved with, insuring that she gets to approve of where the funding and partnerships are coming from -- organizations that share the Riverkeeper's values. "It's a culture."

She lives with her family in rural Sullivan County, N.Y., and in Bryn Mawr, Pa., near the Riverkeeper's headquarters.

Her new book is The Green Amendment, details: mayavanrossum.green

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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