Lori Urso, M.P.A. ’03

River Champion

She retired after 10 years as the executive director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, but it was no swan song for Lori Urso.

Urso, who earned an M.P.A. from URI, began her career with the WPWA in 1992. After three years she left for a career in radio at WERI, where she hosted talk shows, was a D.J., and produced “Backstage with the Blues” hosted by James Montgomery.

After Urso’s family sold WERI, she returned to WPWA in 2000 for a six-month, interim stint. Months became years, and before she knew it, Urso was being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Environmental Merit Award from the New England Environmental Protection Agency.

“The pace was fast,” said Urso, 43, a mother of two. “There were few opportunities over the years to sit back and relax because there was always something new going on. Before I knew it, it was time for a change.”

When Urso first joined the WPWA, the organization rented a one-room office and had 300 members and an endowment of $8,000. When she retired in March, the WPWA owned a property on the Wood River with three buildings, three river access areas on the Pawcatuck, a fleet of 24 kayaks and five canoes, and an endowment of nearly $500,000. There were more than 1,000 members, and the WPWA’s net worth topped $1.5 million.

Her work with the WPWA is hardly Urso’s lone achievement. As half of the blues group Ursula George—along with George Reithoffer—Urso released an album, Blue Basics, in 1999. She also produced a blues album for James Montgomery and partnered on record label Innerhythmic. She is working on four new songs that will be released on the Internet in the coming months.

“Because I went into environmental science, which has a heady, technical side, I made sure to hold onto my artistic side,” Urso said. “I wanted to balance myself.”

—Shane Donaldson ’99