New Jersey lost one of its staunchest environmental advocates, and Raritan Headwaters lost a beloved trustee and friend, when Candace McKee Ashmun passed away on May 23 at the age of 96.

Candy was a force of nature – one of the most intelligent and accomplished women I’ve ever known, and also one of the kindest and most nurturing. New Jersey and the upper Raritan River watershed are better places for having Candy as their defender for over 60 years.

In addition to being involved with Raritan Headwaters for decades, Candy served as a state Pinelands Commission member for 40 years, a member of the State Planning Commission, a founding director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, vice chair of the Fund for New Jersey, as well as a long list of panels and environmental advocacy groups.

Candy grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of Oregon’s wilderness. After graduating from Smith College in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, she moved to New Jersey’s Somerset Hills area, where she met her husband, Charlie, also a longtime RHA trustee and friend.

While raising their three children, Candy became involved in local education and environmental issues. In the late 1960s, she chaired Bedminster Township’s Environmental Commission, and called on her science degree to take on a water-quality testing position with the Upper Raritan Watershed Association, one of Raritan Headwaters’ parent organizations.

RHA’s archives are full of Candy’s contributions as a water quality researcher and trustee. She was a catalyst for using scientific data to win environmental battles, for making the connection between land use and water quality, and for taking a regional approach to watershed protection. She participated in our early battles, and helped create our association’s and the state’s first Natural Resource Inventory.

Candy was smart and did her homework, and her manner was direct and straightforward. When she saw a problem that needed to be solved, she never hesitated to speak her mind.

But Candy also had a softer side. She had an infectious smile and a great sense of humor. She encouraged young conservationists and went out of her way to help them in their careers. She was a mentor to me and so many of our state’s environmental leaders.

Candy will be sorely missed. I take comfort in the fact that her extraordinary contributions to New Jersey’s environment and quality of life will live on.  Thank you Candy.