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PYSK: Mary Ellen Lea

Operations Manager, City of Columbia Public Works

AGE: 45

KEY RESPONSIBILITIES: Management of the fleet maintenance, sewer utility, solid waste utility and street divisions in Public Works.



EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in physical geography and master’s degree in environmental resource management from Missouri State University

WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: My mother worked in the public sector as I was growing up. Her dedication to public service had a big impact on how I view life. I feel that working in the public sector is a huge responsibility. Providing the best service to the citizens of Columbia is my daily goal.

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: I taught a physical geography laboratory while getting my master’s degree and then worked two years for the City of Cape Girardeau managing the sewer, solid waste and stormwater operations. I’ve spent the past 12 years working with the City of Columbia as the Solid Waste Collection Superintendent.

A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: The late Mr. Dale Puckett. Mr. Puckett was very instrumental in the success of the Special Business District. His dedication and work on the Special Business District was extremely important. He will be greatly missed!

LAST BOOK I READ: The book I’m currently reading is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. It is about the rise and fall of societies due to geography, technology, biology and economics — symbolized by the power of guns, germs and steel. It’s extremely interesting to see the effects that an abundance of food or lack of food had on different cultures around the world. The ability to advance really depended on where the culture began.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I WANTED TO GROW UP TO BE: A forest ranger. I wanted to be the person sitting up in a tower watching for forest fires. I’ve always loved the outdoors.

HOW I CHOSE THIS CAREER: My goal after accomplishing my master’s degree was to work in conservation. The opportunity came along from Cape Girardeau, and the public service work appealed to me.

ADVICE TO OTHERS IN THIS FIELD: Take pride in providing a public service. It takes a person dedicated and able to work with the tools at hand.

HOBBIES, INTERESTS: I’m an avid bird watcher, I do some oil landscape painting, and I love to go horseback riding. My newest hobby is pressing flowers.

FAVORITE WAY TO SPEND A SUNDAY EVENING: At this time of year, watching professional football. I especially like the pre-game show to get the lowdown on the players and status of the teams.

ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: Getting my master’s degree. My mother wanted to further her education but didn’t have the opportunity. She supported me throughout my education. That accomplishment was for both of us.

MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I: play golf. It looks more like I’m watching birds, taking a walk through the woods (hunting that little white ball) or catching a few sun rays.

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