May 5, 1944 - Dec. 24, 2022
Sharon Claire Saari, 78, who lived in the Middleburg area for more than 25 years, passed away on Christmas eve. She was a life-long horsewoman, passionate environmentalist and conservationist who filled her world with travel, animals, and adventure.
After contracting polio at age two, she was encouraged to take up horseback riding to strengthen her legs. Thus began her passion for horses and riding. She became the consummate horsewoman, and her move to Virginia enabled her to fully indulge her love of foxhunting. She rode with the Piedmont Fox Hounds in Middleburg for 25 years and formed lifelong friendships.
A native of River Grove, Illinois, she was the daughter of the late Oliver W. and Hildegarde A. Saari, and the youngest of three siblings. She attended East Leyden High School and the University of Illinois, receiving a degree in Forestry & Zoology. She went on to the University of Georgia earning a Masters in Wildlife Ecology. While working at the university’s Institute of Ecology, she traveled to Airlie House in Warrenton to join graduate students from across the country to help organize the inaugural Earth Day in 1970. She saw her first fox hunt that week, fell in love with the Virginia countryside, and vowed to return.
She began her career in Florida at the Nature Conservancy playing a principal role in preserving areas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Big Cypress Swamp in Florida and Santa Catalina Island in California, among many others. After moving to Virginia in the early 1970s, she was the first staff hire at the newly formed Piedmont Environmental Council, setting up their Warrenton office on Main Street.
In 1975, she went to work for MITRE Corporation, a McLean non-profit government think tank. There she wrote environmental impact statements and traveled the U.S. conducting field work. She capped her career by founding The Idea Center for environmental consulting, with notable work such as helping coordinate the DOJ investigation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
At the same time, she also founded Dare You, an adventure travel agency. Through Dare You, she organized and led many horseback treks in the United States and abroad, including Africa and New Zealand, her “favorite place on earth.” Although her marriage from 1981-1996 to Dr. John Mayo now of Warrenton ended in divorce, they remained close friends.
Upon her retirement and the purchase of farms in Rappahannock and Culpeper counties, she enjoyed exploring the riding trails in the surrounding countryside. Sharon’s idea of a perfect evening was sitting on the porch of her log cabin with her dogs, sipping wine, and watching the sun set behind Old Rag Mountain. After giving up farm life, Sharon made her home at Sunnyside Senior Living Community in Harrisonburg, where she continued making new friends and sharing her many travel adventures.
She is survived by her sister Barbara J. Killough, of Palm Desert, CA; brother Kenneth W. Saari, of Park Ridge, IL; Nephew Michael W. Killough, of Bartlett, IL; her step-children Deborah Mayo Swan, of Amissville; Hunter Mayo White, of Medford, MA; Robert C. Mayo of Reva, her dog Abby, and several great nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Sharon Saari’s life will be held from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, January 14 at Sunnyside Retirement Community, 3935 Sunnyside Drive, Harrisonburg, VA 22801, in the Blue Ridge/Allegheny Room of the Highlands Building. Memorial contributions may be sent to the Piedmont Environmental Council, 45 Horner Street, Warrenton, VA 20186 https://www.pecva.org/