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Mary Jo Moore Kitz ’54

September 2, 2018, in Boise, Idaho.

Hailed as an eco-warrior, Jo dedicated her life to working for environmental causes. “What I’m doing is really a passion because I believe in saving the land as it is,” she said. “We have this incredible diversity and we’re on the verge of losing it.”

Jo was born in the British West Indies and moved with her family to Portland during World War II. She loved spending time in the forests around Mt. Hood. The family later moved to Louisiana, where Jo started at Louisiana State University. A year after getting her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Reed, she married navy pilot Bill Kitz. They settled in California’s San Fernando Valley, where Jo resided for 60 years and raised two children, her daughter, Jamie, and her son, Kevin.

She began a career as an elementary school teacher, but in her early 30s she discovered her true passion when she began volunteering for the Sierra Club Task Force. Since childhood, Jo had always been at ease in the mountains. But after meeting city kids who were afraid of bugs and wild critters, she realized that finding joy in nature is not necessarily a given.

Jo become a founding member of the California Invasive Plant Council and led countless land-restoration volunteers—students, at-risk children, church and youth groups—in the removal of invasive weeds, replacing them with plants native to California in oak groves and woodland areas. Having earned the sobriquet “the Intrepid Weed Warrior,” she was named a fellow of the California Native Plant Society, the highest honor bestowed upon its members.

“There is such a peacefulness and harmony when the plants are native,” she said. “When I see a field of mustard, it’s a death scene. Nothing survives there.”

Jo instituted “Sundays in the Santa Monicas,” a program offering residents the opportunity to enjoy the Santa Monica Mountains in their natural state via walks and hikes led by Sierra Club leaders, volunteers, and park rangers. Jo thrived as an outdoor educator for city dwellers. “They thanked me as if they had been to the most marvelous party ever!” she said.

She became program director for the Mountains Restoration Trust, which works to preserve and enhance the natural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains through land acquisition, conservation easements, habitat preservation, restoration, research, and education. Working tirelessly to introduce the Santa Monica Mountains to the people of Los Angeles, Jo helped raise their awareness of its beauty and benefits. Her efforts resulted in the area becoming the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service.

“It was never my grand plan to become an advocate for the Santa Monica Mountains, but one thing led to another,” she said.

As a board member for the Santa Monica Moutains Trails Council, she helped create the annual Santa Monica Trail Days. One day while standing beneath a valley oak tree in Malibu Creek State Park, she had a revelation. Once both plentiful and important, valley oaks had been harvested by early settlers for farmland, fuel, and timber. Now only a handful remained. Jo had the notion that this needed to be remedied and convinced the park superintendent. In 1992, she started a program called Commemorative Oaks to help restore the oak woodlands of Malibu Creek State Park. Under her leadership, countless volunteers planted more than 2,000 native oak trees and dedicated thousands of hours to keeping them alive.

At the age of 80, she retired after 26 years with the Mountains Restoration Trust and was honored with accolades and awards that recognized her work and contributions. In 2004, California Assembly Member Fran Pavley named Jo Woman of the Year for her district at the California State Capitol. Jo also received awards for her contributions to the National Park Service, the California State Parks, and the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council.

“Our successes keep me going, but it’s more than that,” Jo said. “It’s going out and leading a group of people and seeing the ‘Ah-ha!’ experience that they get and the sense of whatever it is that draws people to the outdoors and provides this nameless thing to people, to see how they appreciate just being there, to integrate with our natural world.”

Jo is survived by her daughter, Jamie Kitz, and her son, Kevin Kitz. Her life’s work lives on, continued by the many she inspired and mentored.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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