Joan Maher is deputy operating officer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which supplies water for 1.8 million people in Northern California. Before participating in a panel on the future of the California Delta, she explained in the Zócalo green room why she’s not a proselytizer, at least in the traditional sense of the word: People may not listen to what you say, but they remember how you make them feel.
How do you like your eggs?
What book have you read the most times?
Probably something from my childhood, like the one about the pirates … Kidnapped, or something like that. I used to like pirate books.
When did you last drink bottled water?
I’d say it was very recently. They’re serving bottled water in the other room.
What’s your greatest indulgence?
Doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.
What’s your favorite plant or flower?
I like trees—big trees. Ginkgo biloba’s nice. I like trees because they provide shade and habitat.
What’s your fondest childhood memory?
I think it was having the freedom to explore new places and new things, so it was having a lot of unstructured time to go off. We lived in an area where there were woods nearby, and I could go off and play and just get lost for a couple of hours. That is kind of true freedom for me.
Whom do you go to for advice?
It depends on the advice I’m looking for. I rely on my family, my husband. There are some mentors and co-workers that I’ve had. And I find a lot of advice—nowadays, it’s not necessarily advice—on the Internet. I don’t know if it’s advice. It’s information.
What superpower would you most like to have?
The ability to go back and redo things—to have a lag where I could go back and redo things. Not a large lag, maybe only about a five-minute or 10-minute lag, because a lot of times when I finish a presentation, I say, “Oh gosh I should have said that, I should have said this.” Sometimes if you could just go back and redo the last five minutes it would be great.
What do you proselytize for?
I’m not a proselytizer, but I try to live by example to other people more than proselytizing. So people will forget what you say, even forget what you do, but they won’t forget how you make them feel. So you want to connect with people and live your life in a way that helps them live their best life.
What are you keeping in your garage that you should have thrown out already?
I have my cousin’s cast-iron bathtub. I have an old Westinghouse gas stove. I have pieces of house that we probably aren’t going to use in remodeling.