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Phyllis McCarthy Award

Phyllis McCarthy Annual Public Interest Award

Phyllis McCarthy devoted 24 years to Public Citizen, primarily as the sharp-eyed, detail-oriented managing editor of the Health Research Group’s publications and office manager for the group. She began her career at Public Citizen in 1978 as a typist in the Health Research Group, having asked for a job here so she could spend the rest of her career doing public interest work. Phyllis was key in the development and preparation of every one of our health publications, including the books Pills That Don’t Work, Over the Counter Pills That Don’t Work, Worst Pills, Best Pills and Questionable Doctors and more than 1,000 other reports, medical journal articles and petitions to governmental health and safety agencies such as the FDA and OSHA. As managing editor of the newsletters, Health Letter and Worst Pills, Best Pills News, Phyllis ensured the publications were error-free and on time. She was always ready with a peppery quip, always willing to pitch in and do what was needed. Phyllis gave her life and intense loyalty to Public Citizen. She died in November, 2002.

The following are the criteria for the award:

The person has to currently be working in and to have worked in the public interest movement in the United States, preferably for a total of at least 5 years and in one organization. In addition, the person must be someone without whom the organization would not have thrived and someone who is an unsung heroine/hero in that the nature of their work does not result in the kind of national or even local attention leaders and others in such organizations usually get. It goes without saying that the person must be someone who believes strongly in the public interest goals and mission of the organization.

2003  The first year the award was given, we could not choose between two extremely well-qualified people. Therefore we gave two awards, one to Beverly Thomas of the National Women’s Health Network, who has been described as the backbone of that organization and the other to Elizabeth Hitchcock of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) who has devoted her entire public interest career to PIRG, with a style and an approach that makes all of the staff proud of her, and reliant upon her. View the press release.

2004  The second year, we chose Sally Whelan of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which produces the bestselling Our Bodies Ourselves. Co-Founder of the group, Judy Norsigian, described Sally Whelan, a founder and 24-year staff member of the organization as someone who has had “very little public visibility although she has been key to the women’s health movement in SO MANY WAYS for almost 30 years!” View the press release.

2005 In 2005 the award went to Judy Maslen, a 25-year staff member of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG). Maslen has been the anchor of the financial infrastructure of the organization for 25 years. CCAG Executive director Tom Swan described Judy as “a friend, mentor, advisor and cheerleader in countless efforts and through good times and bad….unsung and largely unknown, yet essential to the growth and development of public interest politics in the state of Connecticut and beyond.” View the press release.

2006  In 2006, the award was given to Marlene Thorpe, who worked with Ralph Nader and with the Center for Study of Responsive Law for forty years. In nominating her for this honor, Ralph Nader wrote: “Marlene Thorpe is the Lou Gehrig of the Center. She is the longest-serving person at the Center and is legendary for her consistency, creativity, reliability and excellence in the performance of her work. She seeks no acclaim, no recognition, no credit…as she organizes and categorizes large amounts of informational material for the Center, for staff at other public interest groups and other researchers and advocates in the civic movement.” View the press release.

2007  The award in 2007 was given to A.E. Griffith Bates Jr., a long-time volunteer with Greenpeace who had put in an estimated 25,000 hours over the 16 years he worked with the organization following his retirement from the Federal government. In addition to helping Greenpeace’s Finance Department keep a positive cash flow, he also organized and maintained Greenpeace’s massive photo archives. His colleagues summarized his contributions by stating that “without Mr. Bates we would all have one less role model of how much Americans can do in their retirement to make this country and the world a better place.” View the press release.

2008  In 2008, the awardee was Laura A. Davidson, a 20-year staff member and now Director of Operations of the Correctional Association of New York (CA). The CA is an independent, non-profit organization which has been granted legislated authority  to inspect prisons and to report its findings and recommendations to the legislature, the public and the press.  CA’s director described Laura as “a selfless advisor and confidante to many staff members as well as a source of support and comfort to the formerly incarcerated people and their family members of those who have recently been released from prison. As we update our IT systems, she makes sure that we pass on as many computers as possible to formerly incarcerated persons who cannot afford them.” View the press release.

2009  In 2009, the award was given to Alicia Holmes Peyton, dedicated director of administration for 12 years at Alliance for Justice (AFJ). AFJ Director Nan Aron described Peyton as a calming force on the hectic environment at the alliance “Alicia is someone who retains her equanimity in face of whatever the organization throws her way,” Aron wrote. “She is guided by incomparable common sense. She has helped steady the ship that is Alliance for Justice for 10 years.” View the press release.

2010  In 2010, Rich Hannigan of the Public Interest Network (PIN) was the recipient of the award. He was described by PIN Director Doug Phelps as follows: For 24 years, Rich has provided deeply insightful guidance for our organizations on a wide variety of strategic decisions, both organizational and political.  He is a skilled manager, both of his staff and of the thousands of projects his team must juggle and complete each year on tight timelines and within modest budgets.  Rich is “the real thing” – a public interest activist who seeks no acclaim or recognition, who holds himself and those around him to the highest standards of productivity and integrity, who makes us laugh gently at ourselves when that’s called for, and who sets a constant example of reliability, intelligence and dogged determination to make a difference.

2011 The winner that year, despite the nominations of several other excellent candidates, was Public Citizen’s own Aileen Walsh, the first of the nine award-winners to have known and actually worked with Phyllis. Simply mentioning Aileen’s roles as assistant to the president and in fundraising did not fully describe the other valuable, indispensable functions she has played, and continues to play, in our organization. View the press release

2012 The winner in 2012 was Keith Rutter, a 22 year employee of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). A paragraph from his nomination letter from POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian best sums up the reasons why Keith received the award and the characteristics we are seeking to honor. “Anyone who has spent any time at POGO will tell you he is the heart of the organization. I have no doubt that the unusual employee retention we have at POGO is largely a function of Keith’s capacity to balance his deep commitment to the mission of POGO with his ability to keep things light and fun. He sets the example for all of us to aspire to. Everyone associated with the organization knows that as long as Keith is around, he will make sure that things at POGO will be done right.” View the press release

2013 The winner that year was Catherine Jones, the Operations and Finance Manager of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). Having an unusual set-up, CPR organization is a virtual organization, as every participant holds a position at a law school or university and staff work from their homes. Seemingly simple tasks – organizing an important conference call, for example – require balancing time zones with conflicting class schedules over multiple schools and personalities. Catherine handles every such task with an incredible amount of good humor, patience, and persistence, giving our virtual group a strong sense of cohesiveness and structure. CPR’s Executive Director, concluded his description by saying Catherine is the foundation that enables all of us to work at our full capacity at CPR — she, truly, amplifies our effectiveness and voice with her talents and support. View the press release

2014 The winning candidate in 2014 was Kalin Drzewiecki-Sezer, Director of Administration and Budgeting at Dēmos, where she has been an employee since 2008, beginning as an administrative assistant. Her nomination letter accurately summed up her assets, as we learned from many comments during the award ceremony. “Kalin approaches each new responsibility as an opportunity to learn – to add to her base of knowledge in order to make her contribution to achieving a more equitable and democratic society. When her job demanded a deep knowledge in human resources, she took advantage of courses and seminars. Internally, Kalin is deeply appreciated and respected. Externally, she is unknown. Her ability to combine kindness with professionalism brings amazing results and creates a wonderful atmosphere here within the Demos family.”