Spotlight on a Board Member: Beth Toor

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Hotline, Spring 2003

Beth Toor was born in Western Canada and grew up both in Canada and in pre-smog Southern California, so the beginning of her life was full of blue skies, clean air, lots of space and outdoor sports.

Beth earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Alberta, and then a Ph. D. in physical chemistry from Northwestern University, outside of Chicago. That’s where she first experienced black, gritty precipitates. From there she went to London to study crystallography, and she lived through the infamous London killer smog of 1952.

In 1953 Beth and her husband arrived in Pittsburgh, not planning to stay long. But the region grew on them, and they are still living here 60 years later. When they arrived, the cleanup of the air had begun; homeowners had to convert coal furnaces to gas or oil, or at least to automatic stokers, and the railroads were changing from coal to diesel. But the steel mills, coke ovens and power plants were going strong.

After working for a few years as a researcher at Carnegie Tech, Beth had three children. During those years of raising small children, she began a lifetime of volunteer work, starting with the League of Women Voters. In 1969 and 1970, as the chair of a League research committee on air pollution, she helped to organize a public meeting at the Graduate School of Public Health to educate citizens about the 1970 Clean Air Act. At that meeting, city councilwoman Michelle Madoff stood up and invited everyone present to join a new group created to fight air pollution in Pittsburgh called GASP. Beth joined and has been a member almost since the beginning, though she was not active in the early years.

After retiring from full-time work as a researcher in the Chemical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University, Beth became an active member of GASP and joined the board. She is now the recording secretary and chair of the nominating committee. She is particularly interested in how we can improve transportation in this region to reduce air pollution, and she has represented GASP on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s Citizen Participation Panel on transportation planning.

Beth’s volunteer time is also spent as the treasurer of Citizens for Alternatives to New Toll Roads (CANTR) and as the chair of the League of Women Voters transportation committee. Her other major interest is weaving, and she is the vice-president in charge of programs for the Weavers Guild of Pittsburgh. She also enjoys the outdoors and was a backpacker and camper until her arthritis prevented her from continuing those activities.

Beth has passed many of her interests on to her children. Her daughter is an environmental lawyer and has had a number of interesting environmental cases in Vermont, where she also chaired her local environmental board for several years. Her younger son (whose environmental awareness began when his mother took him to Pittsburgh’s 1970 Earth Day march) is the current mayor of Boulder, Colorado, and also heads the Environmental Program at the University of Colorado. As mayor, he’s put Boulder at the forefront of cities addressing transportation issues, preventing sprawl, and preserving open space. Her elder son is a product designer, hiker, camper, and avid cyclist.