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Keep New Mexico Beautiful co-founder dies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — During a 2015 interview, Mary Ann Olin Harrell told a Journal reporter about the time, more than 30 years ago, that a police officer stopped the family car on Interstate 25 here in Albuquerque, for a reason long since forgotten, and she desperately tried to explain the empty six-pack of beer bottles in the back seat.

Mary Ann Olin Harrell

She wanted to assure the officer that her husband, Clarence, who was driving, had not been drinking. She wanted the policeman to know she just collected empty bottles.

Which was the truth. Harrell was one of the founders of the Keep New Mexico Beautiful campaign; co-creator of Dusty Roadrunner, the state’s official clean-up symbol; a leader of the anti-litter movement; and a pioneer of recycling in Albuquerque.

Harrell confided in that 2015 interview that Clarence used to say that she made him stop the car every time she saw a bottle or a can near the road.

“She made us pick up trash everywhere we went and annoyed us on trips by constantly singing ‘O Fair New Mexico,’ as well as making us write little poems for a Dusty Roadrunner contest before she would feed us,” Harrell’s daughters, Anna Jane Magruder and Melinda Bryant, wrote in a joint statement.

Harrell died May 15 at an assisted living community in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. She was 94.

Harrell was born in San Antonio, N.M., but moved to Albuquerque with her family when she was 8 and graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1939. Except for a brief time spent in North Carolina, she lived all her life in New Mexico.

“She was very proud to be a native New Mexican,” her daughters wrote. “She loved New Mexico’s mountains, the sky, the landscape.” They said she devoted countless hours to campaigning for open space in Albuquerque.

Harrell was recruited into the Keep New Mexico Beautiful effort by Eunice Kalloch in 1965.

“I was the worker bee and Mrs. Kalloch was the beautification lady,” Harrell told the Journal in 2015. “I was the clean-up person and she was the tree-planter.”

In 1993, the year she retired from Keep New Mexico Beautiful, Harrell received the Lady Bird Johnson award from Keep America Beautiful.

In 2015, Madeline Dunn, who created the Keep Albuquerque Beautiful program for the city in 1982, told the Journal that Harrell taught her how to work the state Legislature for funding.

Dunn said then that Harrell’s mellow demeanor masked the heart of a bulldog crusader.

“She never looked at herself as having a lot of power, but she really did,” Dunn said. “She made a lot of changes in this state.”

Survivors include her daughters; an “adopted” daughter, Charlotte Notgrass; three sons-in-law; 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband, Clarence B. Harrell, and their daughter, Cathleen Knipprath.