By Michelle St. Onge | Photos Supplied
Hometown: Saranac Lake
Family: Husband Chad McCarthy and son Cal Rice
Education: B.A., Business and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh; Pre-med studies at Bennington College; Physician Assistant degree at Albany Medical School
Occupation: Executive Director of the Adirondack Park Agency
Board member, Cloud Splitter Foundation; service in various organizations relative to her professional position.
Barbara Rice grew up in a multi-generational family that proudly call Saranac Lake their hometown. She left the area as a young Physician Assistant graduate to pursue a career in medicine, working in urology at a private practice in Massachusetts for a decade. When her father passed away, she returned home to help out with Rice Furniture, the family business. While her intention was to continue practicing medicine in Saranac Lake, full-time management of the business was needed. “I loved being back in my hometown,” she recalled. “This community is more than just where you go to school, work and recreate. I know the people, I grew up with them and I am lucky enough to call this home.”
Before long, Rice dipped her toe into local politics, first serving on the Saranac Lake Village Board. Her next stop was the Franklin County legislature, which eventually led to her become the first woman to hold the position of Chair. “Serving on the county legislature connected me to what was going on from a policy standpoint,” she explained, “As a result, I developed political connections.” Next Rice was promoted to Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, where she served under both Governor Cuomo, and current Governor Hochul. In March of 2022 she was appointed to her current position at the Adirondack Park Agency by Governor Hochul. She currently lives in Saranac Lake with her husband Chad and their two rescue dogs.
Following are excerpts from my interview with Barbara Rice.
SB: What is the purpose and mission of the Adirondack Park Agency?
BR: We are a team of about 45 people, charged with protecting the natural resources of this six-million-acre park and managing its regional activities. We oversee land planning, regulation and permitting for the private and state-owned land in the park.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
BR: Listen, observe, ask a lot of questions, and make connections with people. I tend to be a people person and those connections have been really important throughout my career. Building relationships with others has led to many great opportunities along the way.
SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
BR: My mother, who was a strong leader herself. I had a front row seat as a child watching her take on challenges and risks. She was a really important role model in my life. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and she ended up getting her Ph.D.
SB: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
BR: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is uncomfortable at first, but you have to learn to take risks. Embracing change is important, and sometimes this involves taking risks. It is hard, but as you go along you will have successes that build your confidence. This was really key in my career.
SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer her?
BR: Slow down, appreciate the moment and be more present. There is more to life than moving forward. I don’t think I was as mindful of that in my earlier years as I am today.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
BR: Be sure to pick a career that you are passionate about. Embrace challenges, take risks,and don’t worry about making mistakes. When you do make mistakes, reflect on them, learn from them and then move on. It’s also important to be kind to yourself by taking time outside of your work to enjoy life.
SB: What does success look like to you?
BR: Success is being surrounded by good friends and family and feeling proud when you look back at where you came from and what you’ve accomplished.
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
BR: I am a very detail-oriented person. I prepare, work hard and spend a lot of time thinking things through. In my first career in medicine, attention to detail and evidence-based decision making was really important. I learned that some problems are best solved after you take time to pause and organize your thoughts.
SB: Tell me about a risk you took that paid off?
BR: While I was the Chair of the Franklin County Legislature, Governor Cuomo visited Saranac Lake for an event. I had an opportunity to talk to him personally. I took a risk and told him that I was interested in working in policy at the state level. Sometime after we talked, I got a call from his office. This was the conversation that eventually led to my appointment as Assistant Secretary for Economic Development in the Cuomo administration.
SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
BR: Anne Richards, the 45th governor of Texas. She was a smart, courageous and tough principled woman. She was a former teacher who came from a small rural town and got involved in local politics. I really admired her for her intellect, quick with and great sense of humor.
SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?
BR: ‘If there is a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there on its own.’ I first heard it from one of my favorite teachers in a math class. It was so long ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. It reminds me that you don’t get anywhere on your own. You succeed with the support and encouragement of your team and people around you. I know I didn’t get to where I am in my career on my own.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
BR: First, we have to take climate change seriously and protect the environment. I was involved in economic development and business, before I became Executive Director of the APA. I think there is a fallacy that these are competing forces. When you think about what draws people to our area, it is the beautiful natural environment. We will not continue to see success from an economic or business standpoint if the environment we’re living in is falling apart. These two forces are not in opposition. We have to explore the interplay between them and how they depend on one another.