University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Phyllis Austin papers, 1944-2017

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

The collection consists primarily of Austin’s research conducted for various projects, mainly regarding Baxter State Park and in preparation for her book, Wilderness Partners: Buzz Caverly and Baxter State Park (2008). It includes photos, maps, research books and annual park reports. The collection also includes Austin’s articles published in various newspapers and magazines, primarily The Maine Times. Also included are awards given to her by a variety of organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Maine State Legislature. There is also a portrait of Austin painted by Jack Havy of Ad Media Associates.

Biographical/Historical Note

Phyllis Austin was born November 14, 1941 in Four Oaks, North Carolina. As a child she dreamed of becoming a Southern Baptist missionary in China. After graduating from Meredith College in Raleigh, Austin shifted her interests to journalism where she became a member of the Associated Press capitol bureau in Columbia, South Carolina and initiated the bureau’s environmental coverage. Austin moved to Maine in 1969 to cover the State House for the Associated Press and in 1972, she became the first Associated Press environmental writer for New England. Her career as an investigative environmental journalist flourished when she began to work for the alternative weekly newspaper, The Maine Times, which encouraged the in-depth reporting about forestry, land use, public utilities, rural community development, and conservation that earned Austin her reputation.

Her journalism garnered numerous awards including an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in Washington, D.C., and a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. When The Maine Times ceased publication in 2002, Austin freelanced for a range of publications including AMC Outdoors, Backpacker, Wild Earth, Yankee, and Down East Magazine. She co-edited a collection of essays titled, On Wilderness: Voices from Maine (2003), and wrote two biographies: Wilderness Partners: Buzz Caverly and Baxter State Park (2008), and Queen Bee: Roxanne Quimby, Burt’s Bees, and Her Quest for a New National Park (2015). In 1984, Austin suffered a horrific cross-country skiing accident that required many surgeries throughout her life, leaving her with intense chronic pain. The accident was the eventual cause of her death. Austin intentionally stopped eating and drinking, and passed away on November 21, 2016 at her Mere Point home in Brunswick where she lived with her partner of 25 years, Anne Dellenbaugh.