Celebrating Dave Barnett
2021 is a bittersweet year for all of us at Mount Auburn as we look ahead to the retirement of President & CEO Dave Barnett in September. Over the past 28 years since he first arrived as Director of Horticulture, his impact has been profound – both as an advocate and innovator for horticulture throughout our landscape and as a leader who has inspired and mentored a passionate, talented staff working together to bring Mount Auburn to new levels of excellence.
Rethinking Mount Auburn’s Landscape
Dave arrived at a pivotal turning point in Mount Auburn’s recent history, and has played a crucial role its evolution since then. When Dave was hired in 1993, the Cemetery had recently completed a master plan to tackle concerns that it would run out of burial space within a decade if it didn’t change its operations – a predicament that had to be balanced with preserving the nationally significant landscape. After several years of studying the site and working closely with Trustees and staff, a consulting team from Halvorson Design recommended a set of strategies for Mount Auburn to approach its future more creatively, with new models for incorporating burial space while simultaneously enhancing the historic landscape and recapturing its early design principles and founding values.
One recommendation that quickly got implemented was to restructure the horticulture program to reimagine the landscape and already-strong collection of plants and trees. This was what brought Dave here as the Cemetery’s first Director of Horticulture, inspired by the opportunity to bring an already beautiful place to new levels. “What drew me was the trees and landscape when I first came in the gate – it was phenomenal,” Dave recalls. “I was here in the middle of May that year, and just saw the sheer beauty of the place, and I was excited about the possibilities of building on that landscape and making it even better.”
That visit inspired Dave to take a closer look at the master plan, which confirmed for him that Mount Auburn was moving forward in a direction he wanted to be part of. And he has been implementing these strategies ever since, managing a growing number of landscape redesign projects over the years. In the process, Mount Auburn became what we see today – widely regarded as a leader in horticulture, and sustainable, habitat-friendly landscape design, and predicted to remain an active cemetery with burial space well into the future.
“In all my years of working with institutions and public agencies on preserving and developing cultural landscapes throughout the Boston metropolitan area and beyond, Dave stands out. Whenever he spoke about projects and plans for the Cemetery, he would quote from the Master Plan. It didn’t just sit on his shelf…It has stood the test of time not just because of what was in it but because of Dave’s commitment to honoring the principles that Mount Auburn was founded on and how they were manifested in the landscape to comfort and inspire.”Liz Vizza, Former Senior Associate at Halvorson Design, now President of the Friends of the Public Garden
Highlights of Dave’s Tenure
Dave is the first to admit that he never could have predicted he would spend the rest of his career at Mount Auburn (or any cemetery), let alone become President & CEO. “But what I did know, and had long been sure of, was that I wanted a career in public horticulture. And that’s what I’m still doing – it just happens to have the very important cemetery side of it as well. I should also say that the cemetery side was something I had to get used to, but as it turns out, it’s probably the most compelling and satisfying part.”
“Dave doesn’t just work at Mount Auburn, he lives Mount Auburn. He epitomizes the values that we came up with during the Vision and Values process. The Statement of Vision and Values talks about welcome, compassion, dignity, stewardship, sustainability, and integrity: all of which Dave stands for as a person.”
Pat Jacoby, Chair of Mount Auburn Cemetery Board of Trustees
Reflecting on his tenure, certain highlights stand out for Dave today. One of the first major projects inspired by the master plan that he helped implement was restoring the natural woodland habitat around Consecration Dell in the heart of the Cemetery – an ambitious initiative that began in 1997 and has continued in stages ever since. And more recently, the 2018 renovation of Asa Gray Garden was the culmination of years of planning, to elevate one of our most-visited areas near our main entrance into both a horticultural showpiece and a tranquil space that better serves anyone in need of respite.
“Consecration Dell and Asa Gray Garden are both spectacular in many ways, but they’re very different. One is a restoration of a natural woodland. And the other is an ornamental, four-season, colorful garden. But I think what they both relate to, in different ways, is the importance what Mount Auburn is for so many people: an inspiring, tranquil, beautiful place. They each do that in a very different way, but both projects were absolutely transformative.”Dave Barnett
Leadership and Innovation
Central to Dave’s leadership style is a deep respect and eagerness to support and encourage the staff he has worked with over the years. During his many years both in our Horticulture Department and as President & CEO, Dave has both fostered a strong sense of community among the staff and pushed Mount Auburn to new levels of innovation.
“I think what pulls us all together is the recognition of the value of what we do, and the importance of Mount Auburn as a place of beauty and comfort,” Dave reflects. “There’s a real pride that everybody gets after they come here. It’s something about Mount Auburn that makes people want to work intently to make it even better. And that’s only happened because of the people here. There’s been a lot of long-standing, ongoing relationships that have kept this place going to the next level.”
“Dave has not only played a major role in making Mount Auburn what it is today: he has also played a major role in making the people of Mount Auburn who they are today. With gratitude, we thank him, and promise to carry on his vision and above all his compassion for all of those who make up the community of Mount Auburn.”Regina Harrison, Sales Manager
Watch recordings of DAVE ON TAP: Reflections on Mount Auburn with President & CEO Dave Barnett, a three-part series of moderated discussions on horticulture, ecology, and preservation.
Listen to Lessons In Ecology from Mount Auburn Cemetery, with David Barnett on the “A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach” podcast.
The David P. Barnett Fund for Horticulture & Urban Ecology
To honor Dave’s career, Mount Auburn has established the David P. Barnett Fund for Horticulture & Urban Ecology, which will support emerging professionals in both fields. The fund has been inspired by Dave’s profound impact on the Cemetery’s landscape – showcasing our horticultural excellence and creating a more sustainable habitat – and his strong belief in mentoring and giving hands-on training to young people. Providing opportunities for emerging professionals as they embark on careers in the fields he loves is a fitting tribute to his legacy.
“We need to keep encouraging young future leaders, and professionals at every level. It’s important to me to have a fund that will provide mentorship and training opportunities. These individuals will be the future of protecting our world and maintaining places like Mount Auburn, whether it’s Mount Auburn or so many other gardens or wildlife sanctuaries where they might end up working.”
Please help us honor Dave by donating to the Barnett Fund today!
Dave’s Career at Mount Auburn
Comments are closed.