March is Women’s History Month, and each week this month the Beverly Press and Park Labrea News will pay tribute to women who help our community thrive.
Carolyn Ramsay is the executive director of the Los Angeles Park Foundation, which raises money for improvements to city parks. It is a role that she was seemingly destined for from the moment she set foot in the city over 30 years ago. While she mostly grew up on the East Coast, Ramsay went to high school in Portland, Oregon.
“The natural beauty of Oregon just made an impression on me,” Ramsay said. “And I ended up going the University of Oregon, and that experience made me an environmentalist.”
Her father was the late Jack Ramsay, also known as “Dr. Jack.” He was one of the most successful basketball coaches in NBA history, securing the NBA championship for the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977. His daughter said that growing up around sports and nature were “the two dominant experiences” of her formative years.
“My life made me very aware of the importance of the environment and the importance of athletics and inner-city parks,” Ramsay Prior to joining the L.A. Parks Foundation in 2018, she worked as chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge and as the L.A. program director for the Trust for Public Land. Before moving to civil service, however, Ramsay worked in journalism, writing for People Magazine and other mainstream publications.
“Along the way, I started a small [organization] to raise money for green space in Los Angeles,” she said. “And there was no park foundation at that point. The park foundation was established in 2008, and this was about the year 2000, shortly after I had my second child.”
She was the founder and executive director of an organization called Olive Branches, which was dedicated to raising awareness and funding for parks in the L.A. area.
“So that’s why [LaBonge] offered me a job, because he saw the work that I was doing. He was a big environmentalist. I raised money for a landscape median on Larchmont Boulevard … and Tom gave me a job,” she said.
He told her that she could, “do as much of this [environmental work] as you want, but you’re gonna have to be my communications director.”
“And then I worked up to chief of staff,” Ramsay added. “But I was able to do a lot of greenspace work while I worked at his office.”
The road eventually led to the foundation, which Ramsay describes as her “dream job.”
“We have park projects going at various [stages of] development throughout the city,” she said, describing her day-to-day life on the job. “When I get to the office, I’m managing a nonprofit with six amazing staff people. That means raising money, reaching out to foundations, reaching out to all different kinds of donors, mostly in California, but some in other parts of the country, as well. And managing my team that works on the installation of the project, that works on our communication or on the administration of the organization, and also works on a native plant nursery that we now have created on our office property … the native plant demonstration garden and native plant ministry at our office park is really spectacular.”
Ramsay said that, as a woman forging a leadership path in Los Angeles, she is heartened and inspired by the number of women who have been elected to roles within city and county government.
“One person who has really inspired me is our mayor, Karen Bass. I had the opportunity to work with her before I took this job, actually … and I just think she’s an extraordinary person. And a she’s an excellent leader,” she said.
Ramsay lives with her husband, Andy Goodman, who works as a non-profit consultant, in the Larchmont Village area. They have two children: Daniel, a podcast producer for iHeartRadio, and Olivia, a medical student at the Kaiser Medical School.
Ramsay was instrumental in the rebuilding of the playground area of Pan Pacific Park, which she noted is fairly close to her home. She said the park is a good example as to why greenspaces are so important in a city as large as Los Angeles.
“It’s one of the parks that I’m at on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. We do a lot of work there. And it is always in use by hundreds of people. It’s a big park. There are guys playing on the basketball court into the night. There are people walking their dogs early in the morning. There are families using the play structures at all times of the day and evening. People have picnics out there in the evening, every day if it’s not raining. The rec center has so many different sports and young child programs, senior programs, such a wide variety of offerings for people to enjoy, and people are really having fun. So, it just gives you an idea of the role of our city parks in Los Angeles. And the more densely populated the city gets, the more important our parks are,” she said.
With Ramsay’s leadership at the Los Angeles Park Foundation, the 450 city parks in Los Angeles have the support for residents to live and play for years to come.
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