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In Memoriam: Darwina L. Neal, FASLA

Darwina L. Neal, FASLA, the first woman President of ASLA (1983-1984) and 2021 ASLA Medal recipient, dedicated her career to promoting landscape architecture through her advocacy and stewardship as a public servant with the National Park Service and in her volunteer service for various local, national, and international groups. She was at the forefront of promoting and being a leader for women in the profession; initiating the recognition and documentation of historic landscapes; promoting and overseeing the design legacy of the Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautification Program; and inspiring public service for the profession.

Neal received her Bachelor of Science degree in Landscape Architecture from Pennsylvania State University and did post-graduate studies in Urban Design at Catholic University. She was hired by the National Park Service in 1965. Her career started first on the Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautification Program task force in Washington, DC (1966-1969); then at the White House Liaison office working on projects at Camp David and the White House grounds (1969-1972); followed by working in the Office of Professional Services, where she served as a Landscape Architect and eventually the Chief of Design Services (1972-1996); and finally with the Office of Lands, Planning, and Design, where she served as the Chief of Cultural Resources (1996-2009). 

Beyond her 44-year-long career at the National Park Service, Neal played a significant role in local and international historical, preservation, and landscape conservation organizations. She served in various leadership roles with two international organizations. The first, the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS), is a professional association that works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places around the world. Darwina held several positions with US/ICOMOS: Board of Trustees (1985-1998), Treasurer (1998-2004), Trustee (2004-2007 and 2011-2017), and Cultural Landscape Committee (2005-2019). She was designated a US/ICOMOS Fellow in 2007. The second, International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), promotes the landscape architecture profession within a collaborative partnership of the allied built-environment professions, demanding the highest standards of education, training, research and professional practice, and providing leadership and stewardship in all matters. For IFLA, Darwina served in the following roles: Cultural Landscape Committee (2005-2019); Western Region Secretary (2003-2006); and Americas Region Vice President (2006-2010).

Darwina was also an active participant in activism in the United States and in Washington, DC, for the following groups: National Association for Olmsted Parks; The Garden Conservancy; Southern Garden History Society; Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation; Preservation Action; Historical Society of Washington; Committee of 100 for the Federal City of Washington, DC; and the DC Preservation League.

Another example of her enduring legacy of advocacy and stewardship is the annual lecture on cultural landscape preservation she founded and continued to support at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.  

In 2016, the ASLA Potomac Chapter bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award on Neal. In a speech, Neil outlined her philosophy on service:

“I believe in ‘giving back’... and passing on... that fostering connections, mentoring, and nurturing friendships are important in whatever you do...male or female...and have tried to do that in all my professional work and organizations... national and international.” 

Read a National Building Museum interview with Neal

This obituary has been adapted from the 2021 ASLA Medal nomination letter written by Maureen D. Joseph, ASLA, Chief of Resource Management, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service.  

For questions or comments about LAND's In Memoriam section, please contact Curt Millay at cmillay@asla.org

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