Patricia McCoy

Learning from the Countryside

Recorded: July 29, 2012

World War II devastation in London led Patricia's family to move to the country in Gloucester, England, where she fell deeply in love with the countryside. When she moved to Imperial Beach in San Diego, California, she was so smitten with the landscape that she was inspired to save the Tijuana Estuary with her partner and fellow environmentalist, Mike McCoy.

Patricia McCoy was born in London during WWII, and her family moved to countryside, fleeing the bombing that threatened their lives. Ms. McCoy became a teacher and was in the nation of Colombia to teach English when she decided to learn more about the world. The country’s deep poverty was shocking to her, but she was in awe of the lush, rich ecology shaping the life of the Colombians she knew. She began to appreciate the connections between people’s quality of life and the health of the planet.

When she came to America and married Mike McCoy, Patricia McCoy brought her experiences in South America to the struggles for the Tijuana River Estuary and wetlands preserve. She became a city councilperson in Imperial Beach and helped to establish the preserve and the visitor’s center, where she is a frequent speaker. Brought up frugally during a major war on English soil, she and her husband embraced a desire to live a simple life that mirrors their environmental efforts. They live within a small carbon footprint and grow much of their own food.

Patricia McCoy: Well, I’m one of those becoming rarer, a pre-war baby and when I say the war, in Britain we all know exactly what I mean by the war, which here is World War II. And I was born in London, there was a lot of bombing and as a tiny child I remember being picked up in the middle of the night and running to the underground, which is the subway in New York and we’d go down there and there’d be the thumping that you could hear and those apparently were the bombs, etcetera and then we’d come up. And there was the smell of incendiary, which to this day I remember; smell is very evocative to me. And I remember one time my mother decided that perhaps we wouldn’t go down into the shelter, into the underground and then at the last minute her neighbor came and banged on the door and said “Come on, let’s go.” And when we did come back up, the windows are being blown out of the flat and shards of glass from the windows were standing straight up in my crib, in my cot. And my mother said, “Well, that’s enough, we’re going to move.” And we moved to Gloucester in the West Country and that’s where I grew up.

Patricia McCoy: And my memories of being out in the countryside, going for walks, collecting frog spawn. Always you could go out to the fields and be with the cows and the sheep and everything else and I grew up in that atmosphere. I ended up here in Imperial Beach and everyone said “oh you mustn’t live in Imperial Beach, it’s got a stigma all around the county.” And I didn’t really want to come here, but then I came down and I saw the Estuary and I fell in love. I thought well this is almost like the River Severn and I thought this place is worth having and saving. And I eventually met Mike a couple of years later, I was then on my own and eventually we got together and we were discussing all the various things we found we had so much in common and we started on the journey to set aside the Tijuana Estuary and we had a lot of fun doing that.

Patricia McCoy: During that time, I met all kinds of politicians and it occurred to me that if you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to be active in it and I had a history of that. I learned through my own experiences that if you’re willing to exert endless pressure and keep it endlessly applied, then that works because politicians see you, they get your letters, you keep coming back and you bring more people and they become more vocal and passionate about the issue. And they realize that they can see it for its value, in this case, the estuary. And years and years and years later I had severe spinal surgery up at Scripps Memorial and I was in there for 5 weeks. And I didn’t realize until Mike was bringing me home what it was I missed and it was the air moving on my face and the sound of trees moving and the birds. And that to me is sustenance in life. I find that to be compelling, other living things and the beauty of it all and it sounds kind of precious but you see a seed that looks like a speck and then about 6 weeks later, you’re eating this plant. I mean it’s miraculous and that’s the sort of thing one can’t lose as far as I’m concerned.