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PlaceMakers: Jean S. Fraser, the Presidio Trust's New Chief

Monday, Sep 12, 2016 Category Park Management

This month we’re delighted to welcome a new face to the park - Jean S. Fraser is joining the Presidio Trust as the agency’s new Chief Executive Officer.

Jean has dedicated her career to fostering sustainable, healthy, and equitable communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. For two decades she was a leader in health care and health policy, notably at the San Francisco Health Plan where she made San Francisco the first city in the nation to provide health insurance to all children.

Jean is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and grew up hiking and backpacking in many of our national parks, a tradition she continues with her family today. She’s served on the boards of non-profits working to improve our quality of life – this includes her work with TransForm, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She’s passionate about our parks, and about getting people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities outside and active.

Over the next few months, expect to see Jean out and about as she gets to know all the people and places that make the Presidio so special. If you do, please say hello. For now, get to know Jean through this PlaceMakers interview.

You’ve spent much of your life helping people in the Bay Area access quality health care. What prompted you to make this shift toward working in support of a national park?

We spend far more money per person on health care than any nation on earth. And yet we trail countries like Slovenia, Cyprus, and Costa Rica in how long we live due in large part to the environments in which we live and work. I found it increasingly frustrating that I was working to treat sick people instead of helping people be well. And I could no longer ignore the threat that climate change poses.

At the Presidio, I get to work on making people healthy and happy by providing a place for them to walk, bike, play, relax, and recharge. And I get to work with a committed, innovative staff on making the Presidio a model park and a model community in responding to climate change. I also get to return to my own roots as an American History major by engaging people in the rich and complicated history of the Presidio.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I honor the labors of our great gardeners, landscapers, archeologists, historians, planners, and other staff at the Presidio Trust by working with the Board and public to provide clarity on our priorities, and then making sure the staff have the resources, knowledge, and support to make this park welcoming and wonderful for all.

The Presidio is a big place with a long and complex history – how are you getting to know the park and its many sites and stories? What will you be focused on in the next few months?

I’m fortunate that as a frequent user of the Presidio, I already know the place quite well. What I’m enjoying right now is walking around the park with staff and learning how hard they work to build and maintain this place in so many ways that people don’t know about. I’ve had fun talking to our sewer crew about how the sewers work and our desire to build a reclamation plant to recycle water. I’ve learned from our exhibits staff about the outreach they’ve done to so many communities in the Bay Area to ensure the exhibits at the Presidio Officers’ Club reflect their historical connections to the Presidio. And today I was lucky enough to tour the Presidio Tunnel Tops site to hear the excitement from staff about the Presidio’s newest transformation – reconnecting the Main Post and Crissy Field with 14 acres of spectacular new parkland over Doyle Drive.

What excites you about the Presidio’s next chapter?

I’m so grateful to Craig Middleton, the prior Executive Director, for meeting the mandate that the Presidio be financially self-sufficient. Now we’re focused on welcoming people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to the Presidio. And I’m excited to work with the staff on making the Presidio a model park and a model community for addressing climate change.

What’s one thing about you that may surprise people?

I ride my bike almost everywhere. That way I get to eat as many cookies as I want.

What’s your favorite place in the Presidio?

Depends on my mood. On a midsummer early morning when the sun is shining, nothing beats the walk along Crissy Field. But when I’m stressed or worried about something, I take a long walk from the 14th Avenue Gate up the hills through the golf course, down the hill to Crissy Field, then up the steps to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then back through the forest passing Rob Hill campground. By the end, the wind and the fog and the spectacular scenery have cleared my head. Then I’m smiling and happy and grateful to all those who’ve worked so hard to save this place for all of us to enjoy.