In Remembrance of Jeanette E. Clifton. Who Made Every Day a Gift
By: Peggy J. Turk Boyer.
For those who had the good fortune to know Jeanette Clifton, her warm heart, wonderful smile, and gracious way will endure in our hearts. Jeanette lived life fully, following her creed that “Every Day is a Gift”. She was born as Jeanette Edith Foy in Williamston, Michigan on October 8, 1935 where she spent her youth on a family farm. She attended Michigan State University, graduating in 1958 with a degree in science and nursing education. In her junior year she met the love of her life, and soul mate, Rodger Joseph Clifton, who became her life partner for 59 years. In 1974 the two moved with their four sons to Tucson, Arizona, and from there ventured to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora and back. As she said her final goodbyes this past May 1, 2021 in Tucson, Jeanette was embraced by her three surviving sons (Patrick, Michael and Matthew), her brother (Mike), and many grandchildren, claiming it the best day of her life! Her family of friends was large, and she will be missed by many.
It was in Puerto Peñasco in the early 80s that our paths first crossed, seeding what would become a lifelong friendship and collaboration.
At the time, I was the resident and founding director of CEDO, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans, which was in its very early stages of formation as an environmental institution, a position which I held for 40 years. Housed in what some called “the Alamo”, and others called “el Castillo”, CEDO’s Greek Monastic style building was a local landmark, which attracted regular visitors. One day the Clifton’s showed up on CEDO’s doorstep, as curious tourists. They participated in one of the regular natural history talks we offered the public, and later joined us for adventures in the intertidal zone. Our friendship blossomed from there. The Clifton’s saw CEDO as a pathway for engaging with the Puerto Peñasco community and began offering critical support to our efforts; they were there for CEDO and our family at every turn.
Jeanette and Rodger bought their first beach house in Puerto Peñasco in 1975 and moved there permanently in 1992. Jeanette had obtained her real estate license in Tucson, and they continued this line of work in Rocky Point, opening the real estate firm, First Mexican Investments (FMI). Jeanette’s true passion, however, was philanthropy. Everywhere she went, she found ways to give to the community, both in Tucson and in Puerto Peñasco.
She and Rodger supported countless social and environmental causes and cared for many individual people and families.
In 1985, when one of CEDO’s first employees, Dario Beltran, was diagnosed with liver cancer they offered support for the family. When Toño, a promising young boy from Peñasco who had lost his father in a fishing accident, was led astray by some delinquents, they found a way to get him off the streets by involving him with CEDO, contributing money so we could support him. Their continued support and encouragement over the years helped him pull through. Similar stories can be told for countless Peñasco residents who benefited from their kindness and generosity. They gave continuous support to the municipalities’ Integrated Family Development program (DIF), the José Davalos Valdivia Casa Hogar (for older people), and the Amores de Peñasco Children’s Home. They started a physical therapy clinic in 1995, engaging physical therapists from Tucson to help equip and support over 200 patients a week. They supported Amore ministries as they built over 1,000 homes for needy families in Puerto Peñasco. The beneficiaries in the community were so many it is impossible to name them all, but it is noteworthy that Jeanette was the first American citizen to be recognized as Puerto Peñasco’s “Woman of the Year”. In 2014 the city council under Mayor Gerardo Figueroa Zazueta voted to name the road to Cholla Bay in front of the Convention Center, Boulevard Rodger y Jeanette Clifton, in their honor. After 25 years with Rodger’s failing health, in 2015 the Clifton’s returned to Tucson, where Jeanette continued her philanthropy at Casa Maria’s Soup Kitchen and Sister Jose Women’s Center. In 2016 she was recognized by Tu Nidito as one of Tucson’s “Remarkable Moms”.
Jeanette also dedicated herself to many environmental causes, primarily with CEDO. In 1984 when we gathered bones from the beached fin whale at Estero La Pinta to display at CEDO, the Cliftons helped fund this iconic exhibit. When CEDO incorporated in Mexico and the US, they supported these efforts and joined our US board of directors.
Rodger and Jeanette both participated in CEDO’s docent program, initiated by Las Conchas neighbor Kitty Alcott in 1988, whereby we formed a team of retired professionals who volunteered their services to CEDO. This program operated through the 90s and into the new millennium, when CEDO began to have the financial resources to hire employees.
Docents helped give CEDO public tours, helped organize fundraising activities, organized Las Conchas Home Tours, paved the CEDO courtyard, erected osprey nesting platforms and volunteered in the gift shop, each according to their own talents. Jeanette taught us how to hold fundraising fiestas and auctions! She also spearheaded the development of CEDO’s Earthships.
One day, taking notice of a very packed and dynamic administrative office in CEDO’s main building, Jeanette had the idea that the gift shop, also located in the office, needed a separate space. She had participated in workshops in Taos, New Mexico, on Earthships, energy efficient constructions built with used tires filled with sand or dirt. She decided to bring that technology to CEDO and Puerto Peñasco. CEDO’s first Earthship was inaugurated and opened in November 1993; it became our Gift Shop, built entirely with volunteer labor, and was the first above ground Earthship in Latin America.
In the fall of 1999 CEDO’s second Earthship was completed, which became a multi-use conference room and exhibit hall. Jeanette coordinated and funded these initiatives and built other Earthships in the area, causing a temporary shortage of used tires! Jeanette and the CEDO team helped bring this technology to the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve.
In 1988 CEDO’s newly formed Mexican board of directors set the ambitious goal of raising overall environmental awareness in the community. With the support of the navy, under the direction of Contralmirante Adolfo Fest Salmeron, participation of Rafael Amparan (with SEDUE) and CEDO, in 1989 we launched a multi-tiered program called “Ecology in the Service of the Community”, involving talks at all the schools, school visits to CEDO, and a community-wide clean-up campaign that engaged about 7,000 people. This inspirational event led Jeanette Clifton to approach CEDO about doing an environmental contest, which we launched as an annual event beginning in 1995. In the early years we did clean-up campaigns, later developed recycling initiatives, fly reduction campaigns, and water conservation themes, and finally in 2007 we began work on protecting key habitats and species and fisheries management issues, always with a focus on engaging school kids and getting them to involve the broader community. In 2011 we expanded the contest to the other Northern Gulf communities where CEDO worked, and over the years we estimate that more than 100,000 students and teachers were involved directly or indirectly in this initiative. Each contest culminated in an award ceremony, incentivizing schools, teachers, and students to actively engage in solving their communities’ environmental problems. In later years winning projects were awarded with student field trips to the San Diego zoo and the region’s natural protected parks and CEDO helped winners implement the ideas they proposed in their projects. In 2020 we celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the contest, a testament to Jeanette as founder of this successful initiative. In the first decade while we worked on urban issues, Jeanette worked closely with CEDO to identify the most compelling community problems and how best to frame the contest to engage students; she also supplied the prizes. She was extremely strategic in her approach to this impressive educational and participatory project, helping identify the actual environmental needs and accessible solutions.
Jeanette applied this same strategic approach to helping resolve the complicated issues around conservation of the endemic and endangered vaquita porpoise. Given that the primary cause of vaquita mortality is its incidental capture in gillnets, international scientists have recommended that its salvation lies in the elimination of this threat. Finding alternative economic options to gillnet fishing is the only sustainable solution for the region’s fishermen. To advance this necessary change, Jeanette saw an opportunity to launch a cottage industry with Puerto Peñasco women, initially wives of fishermen.
She employed a professional earring designer to craft a vaquita earring, bought the materials and tools and trained and employed a group of women to produce the earrings. Using the brand name “AmiVaquita”, these earrings were sold at CEDO, special events, and at some museums throughout the southwest. More earrings were made than the market could bear, however, so she had to stop production. CEDO still has some of these earrings at the Gift Shop and we are still working to find alternative livelihoods for the region’s fishermen, by promoting fisheries that do not use gillnets or other occupations outside of fishing.
At CEDO’s grand 20th anniversary celebration in 2000, CEDO bestowed its “Community Leadership in Sustainable Use of Natural Resources” Award to Jeanette and Rodger Clifton for the environmental work described here. While the Cliftons’ supported each of these initiatives financially, their strategic approach is just as worthy of mention as the specific funds they gave. For each of these different projects Jeanette made a concerted effort to promote meaningful engagement of different actors; education and training was always involved, and financial sustainability was another goal.
Her support for CEDO as an institution also followed these basic principles and has been key to CEDO’s success as a model for institutional sustainability. By engaging volunteers, multiplying our reach through education, raising funds from the public, CEDO today is the longest standing environmental organization in Mexico. 41 years later, we have captured and learned many lessons, adapting our tools and approaches to respond to evolving environmental challenges and community well-being needs.
Jeanette was not a teacher per se; I thought of her more as a mentor and collaborator. She taught through doing, an approach that resonated completely with my leadership style, and we learned from each other. We had fun in all that we did together. She was my friend. She embraced our family and made us part of hers. I am not alone as I say this. Many friends and family will miss her dearly, but we are all so grateful to have known her smile and kindness.
May you rest in peace Jeanette.
engaging hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors in conservation and sustainable resource use; and developed and edited many bilingual publications to inform the community. Under her leadership CEDO became a leader in small scale fisheries management in the Northern Gulf, working with dozens of fishing cooperatives and developing two participatory ecosystem-based fisheries management initiatives that integrated traditional knowledge and science, using tools, such as Coastal Marine Spatial Planning, and empowered ten fishing communities for sustainable use of resources. CEDO’s work was recognized in all these areas by international and national awards for field station diversity, environmental education, conservation, and sustainable fisheries research. Peggy was nominated for a Pew Research Award, received the Margarita Mirandas Mascareñas Foundation Award for Excellence in the Border Region, and received commendations from U.S. Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords and Ann Kirkpatrick for her life’s work.