The Kelleher Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens, a jewel of the Emerald Necklace
Unless they’re electoral candidates or junior-league athletes with exceptionally proud parents, few have pin-back buttons worn in their honor—save for Wendy Shattuck. To celebrate her birthday last October, 150 guests gathered at the old brick building at the Back Bay Fens entrance, donning FOW (“Friends of Wendy”) buttons. Their surprise: renaming the historic gatehouse the Wendy Shattuck Emerald Necklace Visitor Center. The icing on the cake: an endowment (now worth a half million dollars) in her name. “It’s an understatement to say that I was totally surprised; I was undone,” says Shattuck.
The endowment will bolster projects supported by the Justine Mee Liff Fund, named for the late city parks commissioner and Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) founder. The strand of six Olmstead-designed parks, among the total of nine dotting the city, are stewarded by ENC, an organization for which Shattuck serves as a trustee. ENC president Julie Crockford says, “I’m not sure who coined the ‘Friends of Wendy’ term, but we’ve all used it, the sentiment being, ‘If you want to get something accomplished, go to the Friends of Wendy.’” Every person asked to support the endowment contributed, as did scores of unsolicited FOWs. “This historic building stands as a testament to her dedication to maintaining the Emerald Necklace,” says Crockford.
Queen of the hat ladies: Wendy Shattuck at Party in the Park
Shattuck credits her friendship with Liff, whom she met while working as the PR director at the Four Seasons Hotel in the early ’90s, for instilling her dedication to nature. While Shattuck has enjoyed the outdoors since her childhood in Manchester, Massachusetts, Liff inspired her to help others understand the value of preserving city green spaces. “She was a very passionate person and deeply committed to what she was doing, and it was really infectious,” says Shattuck.
Founder of the famous “hat-lady lunch,” officially known as the Justine Mee Liff Fund’s Party in the Park, Shattuck turned to what many deem her “golden rolodex” to complete Liff’s unfinished business. “I knew how much she wanted this to happen, and I thought, I need to carry on the work in her memory,” Shattuck says. Culling ideas from New York City’s Central Park Conservancy lunch—for which her mother was a longtime board member—Shattuck enlisted her sweeping circle of friends to pull off an event that now raises more than $600,000 annually for the Justine Mee Liff Fund. Lynn Dale, former director of bicentennial planning, programs, and special events for Mass General and one of Shattuck’s early recruits, believes Shattuck is influential because she reaches out to potential volunteers only after careful consideration of who would be the ideal fit. “When Wendy calls, you really listen because she never asks for anything frivolous,” says Dale. “She’s thoughtful, in the most all-encompassing definition, about everything that she does.” Crockford says this translates to the bottom line: “She’s diligent in seeing that the funds aren’t squandered in any way.” Shattuck does, however, like to splurge on her hat, purchasing one from the trunk shows of New York designer Susan van der Linde every year for the party. “I usually buy the hat and then figure out what I’m going to wear,” she says.
Shattuck wears quite a number of different hats, literally and figuratively. She studied voice at the New England Conservatory and received a master’s degree in opera theater from Boston University, but she ultimately decided to call her music career quits. “I moved in other directions, but I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the arts in some capacity,” says Shattuck. Many of her jobs over the years did just that, such as her work at the Easter Seals funding a music program for handicapped students, her position as director of development at the Wang Center for Performing Arts, or as publicist at the Four Seasons, aiming to affiliate the hotel with local arts organizations.
A ribbon runs through it: an aerial view of the Emerald Necklace
Today she holds overseer positions at the Boston Symphony and Boston Lyric Opera, and is a trustee at NEC, where she also cochairs the Opera Committee. “She has helped us enormously with new initiatives,” says NEC president Tony Woodcock. “She also has been instrumental in endowing the first chair within the opera [voice] department.” Shattuck says this endowment, made by her and her husband of 35 years, Sam Plimpton (as well as the countless other programs they’ve supported over the years), is in part a selfish desire to see her alma mater thrive. “To be top-notch and attract great students you need great teachers, and that takes money,” she says. She also gives generously of her time to NEC as a volunteer within the mentor-mentee program.
Shattuck combines her loves for music and nature by hosting a chamber music concert at her summer island home in Maine each year. Six outstanding string players from NEC spend the week in residence rehearsing for the concert, performed for influential guests invited by Shattuck. “I think it builds a community for these students that they don’t normally get when they come together piecemeal to rehearse,” she says.
For now, Shattuck plans on keeping her feet firmly planted in Beacon Hill, in her home overlooking the Public Garden, and she’s already orchestrating more events in the arts. The Wendy Shattuck Concert is scheduled for February 26 in the brand-new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where she was named a life trustee in 1990. Not surprisingly, this endowment was another birthday gift from friends—who will likely fill the audience, singing her praises.