Sara Parker Pauley has done a great deal during her working years, but being appointed director of the Missouri Department of Conservation brought everything full circle.
“I’m completing my career where I started it,” said Pauley, a University of Missouri School of Law graduate whose first professional job was as a policy analyst for the agency she now heads.
In between those positions, she oversaw the state’s Department of Natural Resources, acted as chief of staff to Missouri House Speaker Steve Gaw and worked as a project manager for D.J. Case and Associates, a natural resources communication firm.
“I would say that I’ve used my law degree absolutely in everything that I’ve done [and] it has certainly been helpful in the policy arena,” she said. “It’s been a very valuable asset for me.”
And Pauley’s public service has been an asset to the state. Appointed in 2016 as the ninth director and first female head of her department, she has taught courses in policy and administration at the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources.
“I’m very passionate about the mission of the agency,” she said. “I think you’ll find that with Department of Conservation employees, the vast majority come to work because they are drawn to nature. They are drawn to the resources that we are mandated to protect.”
She calls public service, “a high calling to serve your fellow citizens” and one she takes very seriously.
“To be able to combine my interest in conservation and my desire to be a public servant, it is, for me, at this point in my life, the absolute perfect job,” Pauley said. “I could not have written a job description that takes in my educational and work experience and my interests more than this one. I feel very privileged.”
Her nominator agrees, calling her “a servant leader” who inspires others to help.
“She has stood as an ever-vigilant vanguard between our wildlife, waters and habitat and those who would, through their greed, ignorance and lack of concern, seek to do them harm,” the nominator wrote.
Pauley, who also has a degree in journalism, isn’t the first lawyer in a family which includes public defenders, prosecutors, a circuit judge and others, but she said she found herself drawn more to policy than litigation. She’s especially proud of her agency’s new strategic plan.
“It is also looking to the horizon to see what is coming and how can we continue in implementing our mission in 2019 looking to the future,” she said. “Every day, it is an examination of how do we perform better internally? How do we connect better externally? Are we prepared for the future?”
Whatever that future brings, Pauley seems ready to embrace it.
“I certainly have been very passionate about nature and the outdoors all of my life,” she said. “This gives me an opportunity to spend my days furthering that mission and serving as caretaker and steward of resources for the citizens of Missouri.”