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On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the field of parks and recreation lost Sandra “Sandy” MacDiarmid, former superintendent for the Jackson (Tennessee) Recreation and Parks Department (JRPD) and a dedicated champion of health and wellness for her community.
“Sandy MacDiarmid was an outstanding recreation and park professional,” says Tony Black, executive director of JRPD. “Sandy’s impact on our department and our community was immeasurable. [She] was a very talented and multi-faceted professional. Sandy worked with numerous community-based organizations and her involvement always guaranteed that their projects would be a success. Sandy is truly missed by our department and our community.”
MacDiarmid, an Illinois native, began her career as a nature, wildlife and portrait artist. After relocating to Jackson, MacDiarmid took a position with JRPD as an instructor for both child and adult art classes. Over the years, her role evolved to include contract instructor, summer camp arts and crafts director, set and costume designer for JRPD’s theater productions, program administrator, community education director and director of the Nature Park and Raptor Sanctuary, among others. Subsequently, MacDiarmid became the superintendent of recreation for the city of Jackson.
During her tenure as superintendent, she implemented a wellness program, the JumpStart Jackson initiative. “The JumpStart Jackson initiative began in 2007 in response to a city council directive to create a task force addressing the burgeoning childhood obesity problem in Jackson, and Tennessee as a whole,” said MacDiarmid in a 2015 interview with Parks & Recreation magazine. “At first, we anticipated negative pushback from the community — or at least antipathy with the community facing many more immediate, serious issues of crime, poverty and unemployment. We kicked off the initiative with a community-wide Wellness Walk and were amazed that more than 1,000 people and school children came out to march for health and wellness.” By 2015, the initiative had grown to include more than 2,000 participants. In the interview, MacDiarmid also stressed the importance of community partnerships. “When we first began our JumpStart Jackson community health and wellness initiative, we found many groups and agencies concerned with improving health and wellness opportunities in our community, but everyone was working within their own small ‘silos.’ JumpStart Jackson provided a coming together and common ground for all to achieve more together,” she said.
In 2017, MacDiarmid assisted NRPA in creating a video highlighting the importance of the Commit to Health initiative. “Sandy was an early champion of [NRPA’s] Commit to Health [initiative],” says Allison Colman, NRPA’s director of health. “She was absolutely dedicated to youth and making her community a better place, spending 33 years of her life with the [Jackson] recreation and parks department.”
MacDiarmid is remembered as an “outdoors woman,” a “courageous adventurer,” a “compassionate teacher” and a “perpetual student of life.” Her dedication to the field of parks and recreation and her commitment to furthering health and wellness will be greatly missed.