Pamela Plumb in the library of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association where she is president of the board.
On the wall behind her are portraits of past presidents. Photo Thalassa Raasch/MaineCF

Pamela Plumb was born and brought up in St. Louis, Missouri, but ended up going east to attend Smith College. She and her husband Peter moved to New York City where she received a master’s degree in art history from New York University. An opportunity for a clerkship for Peter with Judge Edward Gignoux brought the couple to Portland in 1969 and they settled in “for the long haul.” Plumb offers facilitation and process consulting services through Pamela Plumb & Associates. With Dee Kelsey she wrote Great Meetings! Great Results.

You served on the MaineCF Board of Directors in the early years, 1984-1985. How did you come to join the board?

The 1980s was a period of high visibility for me since I was serving on the City Council in Portland. I happened to know some of the MaineCF founders and they asked me to join the board. I thought it was a great idea to have a statewide fund that could meet the needs of individual donors and also look at the key needs of the state as a whole and direct funds to those needs.

In those early days we were trying to find our way. I remember driving to New Hampshire with other board members to talk with some of the founders of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

Do you have memories/impressions of Ed Kaelber and Marion Kane at that beginning stage of the foundation?

Ed had a clear, confident sense of where we were going. At the time, we thought that a goal of $5 million in assets would be fantastic. Marion had a wider vision of the role of the foundation, taking more leadership in researching key needs in the state and focusing funding in those areas. Both were remarkable leaders.

You have dedicated much of your life to enhancing the effectiveness of organizations, be it the City of Portland, of which you were mayor, or for-profit and non-profit businesses. What are a couple of takeaways from this work?

Margaret Mead said it long ago (I paraphrase): “Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world because that is the only thing that ever has.” It is remarkable what people can do when they put their minds to it. It is also true that people are very generous. A remarkable number of people have stepped forward with contributions large and small to create an enormous fund at the foundation. Maine is a low population state that many might call poor, but communities have been extremely generous.

You helped found Maine Revives Civility in 2017. What compelled you to do so?

I agreed to co-chair Maine Revives Civility because I think we have reached a frightening level of anger and discord in public discussions, where everyone is shouting and no one is listening.  People aren’t valuing or trying to understand differences of opinion. We have begun treating democracy as a winner-takes-all sport, when its fundamental process is dependent on having people discuss issues, sharing and listening to each other’s different points of view, and finding a middle ground that is acceptable to a majority of the people. Also our society will come apart if we begin hating or vilifying people with whom we disagree on a single issue. Those people are our neighbors, sales clerks, firefighters. We have much more in common than the one issue that separates us.

In an op-ed piece in the Portland Press Herald in November 2017, you and Ryan Pelletier stated, “Whether we live in Aroostook County or Cape Elizabeth, we all need to embrace the vital skills of listening to each other, disagreeing without being disagreeable, and building a culture of respect.” How do we gain those skills?

Learning to listen for understanding is the best place to start. Then realizing that each person is much more than any one issue.

You have been a proponent of ranked-choice voting. Any thoughts on this after the first go-round?

It was encouraging that people understood the process and had no trouble managing the ballot. The Democratic ballots showed pretty clearly how the process worked and the Republican race showed that you skip the process if someone gets 50% or more in the first round.

Looking at the foundation in its 35th year, what are some of your thoughts on where it’s been and where it’s going?

I think that there has been a steady movement toward creating funds that the foundation can direct based on their analysis of the state’s needs. That means that the foundation will need to be very thoughtful in its process of identifying those needs.

What is a great meeting?

A meeting where the group accomplishes the goals it set for the meeting in a manner where everyone participated, listened to one another, and arrived at a broadly supported conclusion.