Mary Olson on 4 mentors about radiation -Diana Bellamy, Sharon Barry, Judith Johnsrud, Joanna Macy

My Six Mentors,   by Mary Olson, Gender and Radiation Impact Project, 1 January 20121 

…in these atomic times…

[September, 2020] I was born in 1958—full-on Cold War… my family lived upwind of the Nevada nuclear weapons test site in California and even there air quality was the reason my parents gave when they moved our family back to the Midwest… I was in kindergarten in a tiny town in Illinois during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a bomb drill caused me to become aware of nuclear annihilation at that age. I opted out: that very night I got sick and stayed chronically ill dropping out of kindergarten and was mostly homeschooled for the next 12 years. I am fortunate that my brilliant parents were my teachers and I learned a lot on that journey. When I emerged well enough to go college and work, I learned even more from amazing women. These six, my MENTORS:

Diana Bellamy, MFA

At Reed College I majored in Biology—focused on evolution, and History of Science. As a Junior I fulfilled an arts requirement by taking a theater course, for the first time. Professor Diana Bellamy was a working actor, and in her Introduction to Acting class I discovered that embodiment of an experience is something that others can see and recognize, and at times, experience with the actor. My ability was spotted by Bellamy. She invited—urged me–to change my major and come to the Theater Department, even so late in my coursework. I was shocked into an evaluation of my own priorities and goals.

The following summer was a deep-dive into determining whether to stay the course in my original science major, or jump. The process of discernment, largely via discussions with my father, brought me to a deep understanding of WHY I was studying science: I knew that society’s decisions and actions would be, more and more, made in the worlds of research and technology, and I also knew that ordinary people do not speak those languages. I wanted to become fluent enough in that world to be able to help translate for those who are affected, but outside that bubble. Eventually, ten years out, I attained that role…and have stayed with it.

Diana’s recognition of my ability to project experience challenged me to find the reason I would stay in Biology besides a more stable work-life. It was an empowerment for me to find how to use my gift as a communicator.  I bow to her every time I take the stage to speak to 10’s or to 1000’s of people, and help them experience the vital importance of what I am there to say. …………

Sharon Barry, CPA

As I left research behind at age 25, I needed stability, clean air and water, and a different kind of stress as I rebuilt my health. In 1986 I got a job running the retreat, conference center, and camp in Michigan where my parents had been summer staff when I was a toddler—and I had attended camp. Circle Pines Center is both legendary, and unknown. I created, and served on a Management Team for five years and built a strong tool-box of non-profit organizational skills. That portfolio includes business management and administration. It was my dear friend and mentor, Sharon who helped me learn. Our relationship was not easy—but Sharon stood by me as she taught me the craft, and helped with the art by serving on the Finance Committee of the Board. We rebuilt the Center which had been in tough shape…to its strongest financial footing in decades. Sharon went on to win her own CPA and has been part of my financial life ever since as my accountant. I am not wealthy, but I am also deeply committed to accountability. Sharon taught me, and continues to support me in this. It is her strength I pull on to get through my own tough times. THANK YOU!

Judith Johnsrud, PhD

I met Judy in 1990 at the Backyard Eco Conference in Michigan. I left my submersion job at Circle Pines and drove to the gathering, expressly to hear Johnsrud speak about radioactivity in the environment. I had been recovering from my radiation exposure, and learning about new proposals from the federal government to deregulate a large share of the radioactive waste generated in the processing of uranium for nuclear fuel, and the operation of nuclear reactors for energy and nuclear weapons materials production. The Below Regulatory Concern Policy would put metals, building materials, soil and many other materials that were measurably radioactive into unregulated county landfills and also allow recycle into consumer products, with no warning or label. The deregulation is what I wanted to talk to her about. It seemed to me that what happened in the lab with a tiny plastic petri dish might happen in a Walmart to someone who never knew what had happened since radioactivity is invisible, has no smell or taste…

When I got to the conference, event organizers were looking for a volunteer to drive Judy across the state to the airport near Detroit. I immediately volunteered—it was a 5 hour drive and that gave us plenty of time to get to know each other. Judy remained my friend, my confidant and my teacher for the next 20 years as I moved into working at the national and global level for the peaceful end of the nuclear era—ending the production of more nuclear waste and better protection for our living systems from the waste we already have made. Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) was founded by a small group, including Judy Johnsrud. I was hired in 1991 as Staff Biologist and Radioactive Waste Specialist, and Judy was always there—and in the first decade, we were often the only women in the room. Judy died in 2014; I retired from NIRS, five years later, in 2019.


Joanna Macy

The paths of Joanna Macy and I have crossed and re-crossed—I first met her work in her first book, ‘Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age,’ published in 1983, before my radiation accident…I actually met her in-person, briefly at that time because of her leadership in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship… and our paths crossed again, briefly, when she and her husband Fran introduced me to their concept of Nuclear Guardianship. It was not until a younger friend and protégé of mine convinced me to attend a short-course at Schumacher College in Devon England (1998) led by both Fran and Joanna that I got to know her…a little. It was a two-week session rooted in community work that formed the later book, ‘Coming Back to Life’ (1998). I include Joanna here, as a Mentor, even though we have spent little time together, because when I open my mouth to speak, it is most often her influence I hear. The basic insight that we are all one is a foundation for me—and she brings that insight to the nuclear work. I honor her, and in doing so, I hear echoes of her in me……


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