Norma McCallan, 1933-2016

By Teresa Seamster, Northern New Mexico Group chair

Norma McCallan was the Rio Grande Chapter vice chair, Outings chair, Northern New Mexico chair and the heart of our chapter.

If there is one person who would echo Henry David Thoreau’s words “We can never have enough of Nature,” it would be Norma McCallan, Sierra Club leader and wild lands advocate for almost four decades.

Due to the efforts of Norma and those she worked with in the Rio Grande Chapter, thousands of acres of New Mexico’s  sweeping vistas and native wildlife in the Valle Vidal and San Juan Basin Badlands are now preserved.

With the persistent efforts and canny political judgment that characterized her work, Norma led hiking trips to Valle Vidal to make people aware of its unique features, and then went door to door getting support from businesses and organizations to protect this “Yellowstone of New Mexico.”

In, 2006, a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Tom Udall became law, and more than 100,000 acres of alpine meadows and New Mexico’s largest elk herd became a protected unit of the Carson National Forest for future generations.

That campaign was one of many. Norma worked continually on environmental efforts that involved meeting with the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management on resource-management plans, better travel routes and protections for irreplaceable landscapes from extractive industries or urban development.

Her efforts ranged from restoring native plants at the historic town of Buckman to helping get the Columbine Hondo near Taos designated as a wilderness.

She was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure in 2014 and as one of The New Mexican’s “10 Who Made a Difference.”

Norma passed away on June 27, having taken a walk with her daughter earlier and entertained a small gathering of friends at her home. She was 83.

“It’s like a light has gone out,” said chapter Political Chair Susan Martin. “Norma was indefatigable in her efforts to protect wild lands, air and water quality.”

Norma always looked for a reason to be outdoors. As the Sierra Club Outings chair, she led hikes for decades in the mountains and open spaces around Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. “My most invigorating moments are in the special places,” she said.

“Norma was the most active, energetic volunteer of the Sierra Club’s Northern Group and beyond for decades,” said Tobin Oruch, Northern New Mexico Outings chair. “She also led the Outings Program along with Norbert Sperlich for much of that time and led nearly 450 hikes. She was a giant in the local environmental community.”

Her love of the trail led to Norma writing up hike descriptions for the Northern New Mexico Group’s Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area book in nearly all of its eight editions.

Her close friend Mary Thompson commented, “Norma shares her love of the landscape with others in ways that enrich their lives and greatly benefit Northern New Mexico.”

Her daughter, Julie McCallan, summed up her mother in one word as she wrote a memorial: “undefeatable.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requeted donations to the Rio Grande Chapter, 1807 Second Street, Unit 45, Santa Fe, NM 87505, or riograndesierraclub/donate.

Photo by Eliza.


Pat Carlton

Norma was a friend and inspiration to me from the first time I met her.  It was on a hike on one of the Dale Ball trails, and our small group had so much fun hiking with her. She was that rare person who seemed to love equally nature and the humans who live in and alongside it. She took on many difficult leadership roles with relish, yet no task was too small for her attention.   

I never saw Norma visibly angry or mean-spirited. She spoke her mind, but never attacked others in doing so.

I will really miss her — we all will.  Hers was truly a life well lived.

Susan Martin

Above all she was a kind and welcoming presence that so enriched the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and enabled many different personalities to work together for the same environmental protection and enhancement goals. She didn’t let a minute go to waste, perhaps part of her proud Scottish heritage, and would carry copies of High Country News on hikes to read in rest stops. Her cheerfulness and enthusiasm were unmatched, and I will very much miss my friend Norma. 

Chapter chair David Coss

In the last 30 years, Norma worked on every campaign I was ever involved in. Her love of people and the earth serve as constant inspiration to me. She was all set to table for the new Day Hikes edition!  She never, ever stopped. I will miss her so much.  

John Buchser, former chapter chair

After a few years of her enduring persistence, Norma roped me into a leadership role. I met with her monthly over lunch for over a decade, ensuring I was aware of all the players and the voluminous protocols of the Sierra Club. We became aware of the importance of politics together, walking the streets to ask voters to back the Club’s endorsed candidates.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján

Every time I have the pleasure of hiking the Valle Vidal, I will think of Norma and her tireless advocacy to protect this important treasure. Norma believed that we had a responsibility to protect Mother Earth and to leave things better than we found them, and she achieved that every day with her words and her actions.

Tom Gorman

I will cherish the times we were together on hikes and many meetings with environmental groups. She was an example and inspiration to so many, and embodied all that the Sierra Club stands for. I will miss her, but I know her spirit will live on in all those she touched.

Ken Hughes

Most people in America think nothing about exercising their right to vote, much less working to get candidates elected. Not Norma. After endorsing candidates among the rest of us on the political committee, she would go door to door stumping for them. One late February afternoon going for Santa Fe City Council and mayoral candidates, I was bushed and suggested we call it a day. “But there’s only one house left; I’ll go up the driveway,” she volunteered. Coming back to the car, she said, “I got their vote.” 

Paul Paryski

Norma was a state monument. She was the cornerstone of the Rio Grande Chapter for decades.

Norma McCallan, 1933-2016