By all accounts, Co-Director of the Mill Valley Chamber has left an indelible imprint on nearly every aspect of the community over the past three decades.

PicturePaula Reynolds. Photo by Gary Ferber.

In 1986, Paula and Bob Reynolds moved into their first home in Mill Valley straight from New York City, completely sight unseen.

Fast forward nearly 30 years – and three kids (Peter, Julia and Charlie), successful careers and myriad honors, including Paula Reynolds’ 2015 Mill Valley Business Citizen of the Year Award, which she’ll receive Friday at the Bank of Marin’s Spirit of Marin Awards ceremony – and they remain in that home.

“It’s a good reminder not to sweat to small stuff,” Reynolds says.

A self-described “oil brat” who lived several years apiece in New Jersey, Japan, Australia and London as a kid, and as a intrepid world traveler, Paula Reynolds says she has no intention of leaving the town where she’s lived the bulk of her life.

“I plan to be carried out of Mill Valley in a box,” Reynolds says with a laugh.

But while Reynolds has no plans to move ever again, she has without a doubt been on the move over the past nearly three decades.

A cursory glance at her history of volunteering in Mill Valley will induce exhaustion in the faint of heart: Mill Valley School District Trustee, Throckmorton Theatre Board Chair, Chair of the successful $18.6 million School Bond in 1994, Marin Academy Board, worked on committees for both the Community Center and the Library, Business Advisory Board Chair, Mill Valley Chamber Board Chair, The Redwoods Board and most recently, in an effort to seize the momentum of building and sustaining a successful local Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Co-Director.

“Words are not adequate to describe Paula Reynolds,” says Elizabeth Suzuki, Mill Valley Chamber Board Chair. “She’s very erudite, but it’s her actions that are her hallmark. Whether it is tapping valuable talent to serve with her – and who can say no to Paula? – or knowing just who to approach to get something done, she’s always in motion, usually behind the scenes.”

In announcing its Spirit of Marin winners, Bank of Marin officials called Reynolds “a bright, energetic and dedicated force in the community” with “a history of stepping into challenging situations and making a lasting difference.” That history has allowed Reynolds to garner a number of awards previously, the City of Mill Valley’s Citizen of the Year, Marin County School Board Trustee of the Year (2009) and Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award from the Marin County School Administrators Association (1998).

Given the breadth of Reynolds’ involvement in the community, from schools to seniors and a plethora of things in between, she’s had an indelible impact on nearly every facet of life in the 94941, according to Linda Rosso, a former member of both the Business Advisory Board and the Chamber Board with Reynolds.

“Paula is one of the special people who make Mill Valley work for people of all ages,” she says. “In the 25 years I have known her, she has either been on the front lines or working behind the scenes to make things happen. The business community has a champion in Paula – and we’re seeing the results.”

Those results include revitalizing the Chamber board, leading the effort to adopt its first strategic plan, growing membership by 50 percent and collaborating with the City of Mill Valley on a multi-year Professional Services Agreement. Those results were the culmination of her work since 2010, when Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters asked her to chair the City-appointed Business Advisory Board to help revitalize the town’s local economy and make sure the business community had a “voice at the table” in policy decisions.

“Paula has identified the critical needs of the local business community and worked diligently to address those needs,” Moulton-Peters says. “Under her leadership, the Chamber has been a great partner with the City of Mill Valley. I’m delighted that Paula’s many contributions to local businesses and to the larger Mill Valley community are being recognized as she is honored at the Spirit of Marin awards this year!”

“In Mill Valley, it’s all about community,” Reynolds says of her work with the Chamber. “That’s why I got involved and why nearly 300 of us have joined the Chamber – to keep Mill Valley a thriving economic and cultural hub. Mill Valley has come a long way since the devastating 2008 downturn and I am grateful to have been a small part of that recovery.” 

Paula Belknap was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Her dad Norton Belknap worked for Standard Oil (later Exxon), and the family moved around the world with his jobs, allowing Paula to live some of her formative years in some of the most exciting cities on the planet, including Tokyo and London.

When she was 18, she went to Tufts University in Boston, then moved to Washington, D.C. to work for U.S. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D, New York) as an aide on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She spent the next four years in D.C., and was set up on a blind date in the Senate dining room with Bob Reynolds, then an aide for Bingham’s political polar opposite (but fellow Yale University alum), U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R, Wyoming).

“Republicans are allowed to have fun, too!” Wallop told Bob of the setup.

Bob and Paula hit it off right away, and got married in 1980. They both decided to go to Stanford Business School, arriving a monthly early for the aptly named “poets program” for those “illiterate in math,” Reynolds says.

The couple then moved to New York City, where Bob worked as an investment banker at First Boston and Paul took a position in sales at AT&T International. Missing California, they moved back to the Bay Area, with Bob heading up First Boston’s San Francisco office and Paula getting ready to have their first child.

Within a year after having Peter, Reynolds wrote Bay Area Baby: The Essential Guide to Local Resources for Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenthood, which has since been published in multiple editions.

With so much going on, Reynolds kept thinking about the previous year when, in the midst of moving to the Bay Area with a newborn, she’d asked her boss in the sales division of AT&T if she could scale back her hours to spent time her son. The answer was a resounding no.

When Reynolds serendipitously met Marion McGovern, the pair bonded over the challenges faced by professional women looking to go back to work but while striking a work-life balance that allowed them to be with their children.

In 1988, with Reynolds seven months pregnant with her daughter Julia, she and McAuliffe created M Squared Consulting, which specialized in executive recruiting for a wide range of job types and structures. While running M Squared, Reynolds was the subject of a New York Times story that said: “Ms. Reynolds has resolved to her satisfaction the great quandary of the working Mom – how to balance the demands of her job with the tugging at her heart.” In 2000, with the firm bringing in nearly $20 million a year in revenue, they sold the business, and Reynolds left M Squared in late 2007.

Although she held many of her board positions in Mill Valley while she was running M Squared and raising a family, Reynolds stepped her service to an even greater level when she left her business.

Those efforts have led to Reynolds being honored this week with a Spirit of Marin Award at the St. Vincent’s School for Boys in San Rafael, where she’ll be joined by fellow Mill Valley Chamber members and friends, as well as Claire McAuliffe, currently the Mayor of Belvedere and Reynolds’ longtime partner at M Squared.

‘It is only appropriate that the “Spirit of Mill Valley” be honored with a Spirit of Marin award!” says Dennis Fisco, former Mill Valley Mayor and leader of many of the campaigns Reynolds has worked on over the years. “From the schools to the City to the Chamber, Paula has always been about all things Mill Valley by not just thinking of better ways to perform but by leading as an example to us all on how to dive in and get things done. Well deserved!”