Celia Hunter on Leadership  

Learn how Celia shaped the conservation movement for over 50 years with these leadership lessons!

  • BE A GOOD LISTENER. A good leader is also a first-rate listener. When facing disagreement, Celia was willing to keep talking and listening – to those on the opposite side of an issue as well as her colleagues and friends. “She was a wonderful listener, she really made you feel safe,” explained Susan Ruddy, an ACF advisor. “She listened with her heart.”
  •  LEAD BY EXAMPLE. “She led not by issuing orders or imposing guilt on others as a self righteous crusader, but by example,” Emeritus Trustee Steve Williams said. Celia was not personally ambitious and did not seek out positions that put her in charge of other people, but she often found herself in the leadership role because of what she could bring to the group. “She couldn’t help herself — she couldn’t not do what she did because she cared so deeply about it,” Susan Ruddy said.
  •  THINK OF THE BIGGER PICTURE. Celia had foresight. She could see the bigger picture and the human role in it. She saw the need to protect Alaska’s wild places when very few other people were thinking about how they might one day be threatened. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an example of how her vision kept a unique ecosystem from being exploited by shortsighted schemes.
  • PERSEVERE. Celia dealt with conservative politicians for 50 years with unwavering determination and energy. At her memorial service in Anchorage, a friend stated, “Celia could lose, and she lost a lot and she kept on going. I want to be like that.” Celia was persistent, and she was in it for the long haul. As former Governor Jay Hammond wrote, “She had dogged determination.”
  • BE HONEST. Celia had a strong moral and ethical sense. She let the facts speak for themselves; she didn’t need to exaggerate or make false claims. Celia was trusted, trusting, and trustworthy. She was straightforward, and she stayed true to her principles.
  • BE PASSIONATE. Celia was passionate about the environment and had a genuine love of people and of Alaska. That passion allowed Celia to persevere in a tough political climate as she worked tirelessly to advocate for the wilderness she loved. Admirers and opponents alike described her as force of nature. Colleague Martha Levensaler described her as “…strong minded. You couldn’t push her around!” Celia’s passion for her work and for life was infectious.
  • USE RESPECT. Celia Hunter had tremendous respect for other people and for the natural world. “She felt the battle wasn’t worth fighting if it meant being disrespectful,” Steve Williams explained. “She did not resort to polemics but spoke plainly and honestly about the natural world and the impacts of human beings on it.”  This respect for others allowed others to respect her. Celia didn’t judge people solely on whether they agreed with her and she was always looking for common ground. She didn’t point fingers or hold grudges. “She didn’t attack the person but the issue,” Susan Ruddy explained.
  • COMMUNICATE. A successful leader must be able to communicate her passion and vision to other people. Deborah Williams, ACF’s former executive director, described Celia as always “…amassing facts and presenting them in compelling ways.” Celia was an articulate, alternative voice in her weekly column published by the conservative, pro-development paper, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. She also shared many of her pioneering stories in regular radio interviews.
  • BE CREDIBLE. Celia was credible because she did her homework and she spoke with authority based on first-hand experience in Alaska. “If you were going to take her on, you better know your stuff,” Rick Caulfield remembered. Susan Ruddy explained that “…she really knew what she was talking about and it all came from her heart.” “She had a history and real experience with the place that allowed her to speak with authority,” explained Steve Williams.
  • BE COURAGEOUS. Celia was a warrior and she had guts. Former Governor Jay Hammond described Celia in an audiotape played at her Anchorage memorial as “…a slayer of dragons and a tilter of windmills.” She would tackle a project regardless of how overwhelming the odds. Steve Williams describes her as fearless and said, “She would say what needed saying pretty much period.”
  • KEEP A BALANCE. Celia didn’t let the little things get in the way of what mattered most. She often spent time at Camp Denali with friends and enjoyed cross-country skiing, reading, baking bread, and could frequently be found in her beautiful garden. “She thought life was a gift—it was disrespectful not to live it,” said Steve Williams.
  • BE COMPASSIONATE. Celia was often described as a compassionate person. Martha Levensaler described her humanity as being profound. “She never left out the human dimension,” said long time friend and colleague, Esther Wunnicke.
  • STAY CURIOUS. At ACF’s Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2001, Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor, Fran Ulmer, described Celia as a person who never stopped educating herself and others. She introduced many people to new books, new magazines, and new theories. “She read a lot,” says Steve Williams.
  • BE A COMMUNITY BUILDER. Alaska was Celia’s home and she saw herself as a part of the community in Fairbanks, in Alaska, and in the world. Whether it was her community in Fairbanks or the conservation community, Celia promoted togetherness. She helped establish and maintain ski trails and other open spaces, now community treasures in Fairbanks. She taught people to cooperate and “…her example let other people in the community know it mattered what they did,” explained Steve Williams. “You just wouldn’t have the strength in the conservation community today without Celia Hunter,” Esther Wunnicke said.
  • BE OPTIMISTIC. Celia never thought a wall was too high. “She showed that you can most effectively maintain your motivation by saying you’re going to win, not by fearing that you are going to lose,” said Deborah Williams. 
  • BE A MENTOR. Her willingness and ability to inspire so many people, including young people, is one reason Celia was an effective leader. Her qualities were contagious and she was good at giving compliments. Celia was once asked what it was like to be a mentor and she replied, “Well, you do a lot of listening, pat them on the back and push them back out the door!” A speaker at her memorial service said that “she is a person who takes you by the hand and step by step, very centered, not panicked, not overly excited, and reaches the goal.” Celia took the time to cultivate others and in the long run it will be one of her most lasting legacies.
  • STAY YOUTHFUL. Celia was active right up until her death. She loved to cross-country ski, no matter how low the temperature dropped outside. At Celia’s memorial in Fairbanks, Deborah Williams told a story that took place just six months before Celia died. After a two and a half day grueling Alaska Conservation Foundation board meeting, board members were offered a rafting trip down the icy-cold, silty gray Nenana River. Many were reluctant, but Celia jumped at the chance. Deborah said, “Please, please, please when I am 82, let me put on a dry suit and a helmet and grab a paddle.”
  • HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR. When people talk about Celia Hunter one word is mentioned repeatedly – “cackle.’’ She had a fantastic laugh and she was known as a woman who could defuse hostility with humor.
  • BE HUMAN. As Susan Ruddy said, people were drawn to Celia because of “…her warmth, and her passion, and her gentleness, and her loving nature, and her smile, and her giggle, her open mind, her curiosity, and depth of caring for others. Celia made you feel good about you and about her, and she had a sense of love about her and a desire to share that love.” Martha Levensaler explained, “She was one of those people who is amazing, but completely approachable.”
  • REMAIN HUMBLE. Celia was a brilliant woman who accomplished many things, but she remained unassuming. She lived a simple and modest lifestyle and believed that you should make your impact light on the world. She had a calm, self-effacing humility. Esther Wunnicke said, “You have to have that spark and vision and communicate it to other people, and sometimes you have to step back and let others take credit for what you did. Celia knew that.” Rick Caulfield explained, “She never put herself on a pedestal and didn’t want to be.”