Leadership & Board of Directors
Meet the many faces behind the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation! In the photo above is our leadership team: From left, Brad Parrish, retail manager; Margaret Thiele, vice president of development; John Caveny, director of conservation and education; Tommy Oakley, vice president of operations; Jesse Pope, president and executive director; Landis Taylor, vice president of marketing and communications and Kim Rupard, director of administrative services. Learn more about joining the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation team!
Jesse Pope, President & Executive Director
Jesse came to Grandfather in 2002 and began his career on the mountain as a wildlife keeper and backcountry ranger. In 2004, he developed a naturalist program for Grandfather Mountain, managing it for a number of years. In 2015, Pope was named president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
With unmatched knowledge of Grandfather Mountain’s ecosystem and unbridled passion for the organization’s mission, Jesse oversees foundation staff, programs and the execution of the organization’s strategic plan. Read more about Jesse.
John Caveny, Director of Conservation and Education
John began his career with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation in April 2013 as a seasonal interpretive ranger. He then moved into the roles of chief interpretive ranger and natural resource management specialist. He was promoted to director of conservation and education in February 2020.
John has a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University in park recreation management and a master’s degree from Oregon State University in natural resource management. He’s a certified N.C. Environmental Educator and NAI certified Interpretive Park Guide, and has been a steering committee member for Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative since 2019.
John lives in the Boone area with his wife, Courtney, and their three children. In his spare time, he enjoys fly-fishing and spending time outdoors with his family.
Tommy Oakley, Vice President of Operations
Tommy and his wife Ginny moved to western North Carolina from Clinton, S.C., in 2014 to retire. Instead, he began working as gate manager at Grandfather Mountain.
Tommy’s previous career had been with the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce. For decades he worked in various roles, including unemployment insurance agent, office assistant manager, office manager and eventually director over 11 counties.
In 2018 at Grandfather Mountain, he became operations manager, managing nine departments via planning, training, budgeting, communication, infrastructure, supply chains, equipment, vehicles and safety, while also helping to motivate and solve problems with strong judgment and organizational skills. In July 2023, he was promoted to vice president of operations. Tommy has a passion for Grandfather Mountain and believes in company values and policy, which he demonstrates firsthand to coworkers and management.
Brad Parrish, Operations Manager
Brad is originally from Rock Hill, S.C. and started working at Grandfather Mountain in April 2011. He was promoted to retail manager in 2013, and then later switched to a leadership role within the operations department when he was named operations manager in December 2023.
Brad loves the family work environment within the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. He also appreciates the high variation of his day-to-day duties – within any day he may be assisting with a medical emergency in the park, taking part in a carryout operation on a trail, parking cars or running a retail shop.
Brad is married and has one child. When not at the mountain, he enjoys running and jogging in the area.
Kim Rupard, Director of Administrative Services
Kim is the longest-tenured employee on the leadership team, having worked at Grandfather Mountain since 1999. She started as a seasonal gate employee in August 1999 and over the years has worked in numerous areas of administration and operation, including group coordination, benefits coordination, IT, accounts payable and financial coordination. Since 2013, she is the financial controller, administrative office manager, benefits coordinator and over IT for the mountain.
She is originally from Saw Mills, N.C. and lives with her husband Tim and two dogs. She also has a daughter, Brittany. Kim loves vacationing at the beach, gardening, spending time with family and going to concerts with her daughter. She takes pride in the fact that the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation believes in promoting an environment that is family-friendly and engaging by making employees and park guests feel valued.
Landis Taylor, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
Landis is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and has a degree in journalism and mass communication. She began her career at Grandfather Mountain in 2006 as a public relations assistant and rose to the positions of news director and director of marketing and communications over the next seven years.
She met her husband Gabe while working at Grandfather Mountain, and the couple moved to the Asheville area in 2013, where Landis was a member of the public relations team at Explore Asheville until spring 2021. Landis returned to Grandfather Mountain July 2021 to oversee all external and internal communications for the nature park and preserve. She was promoted to vice president of marketing and communications July 2023.
Landis and Gabe have two children and they love to explore the outdoors as a family. Landis’ favorite thing about her job is watching guests experience Grandfather Mountain in their own way.
Margaret Thiele, Vice President of Development
Margaret joined the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation team in 2023 after 10 years of previous experience in development and fundraising for non-profits. She’s passionate about conservation, the preservation of Grandfather Mountain and educating people about this special place. One of her favorite things about her job is hearing everyone’s unique stories about why they love the mountain.
Margaret grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. and received a bachelor of arts from Davidson College and a MFA from East Carolina University. She lives on a homestead farm in Avery County with her husband, two children and a menagerie of animals.
She’s a member of the Avery County Rotary Club and enjoys hiking, playing golf and doing farm chores in her spare time.
Board of Directors
Gordon Warburton, Chair
Gordon Warburton is a certified Wildlife Biologist who worked with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in western North Carolina serving as the state’s black bear project leader and the Mountain Ecoregion Supervisor. As Supervisor, Gordon directed the land conservation programs including the land acquisition program that grew from about 11,000 acres in the 1980’s to over 100,000 acres in 2017.
He continues to be involved in bear research and conservation serving as Co-Chair of the Research and Grants Committee of the International Association of Bear Biology and Management. Gordon has served as the Chair of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation since 2017.
Jon is president of Barrett Law P.C., where he specializes in sports law, and president of SPMA Co., a sports media consulting company. Before starting these two firms in 2013, he practiced business law for 35 years at two major Charlotte, N.C., law firms. In 2014, Jon relocated to Linville, where he now resides. He has extensive board experience and brings a passion for Grandfather Mountain.
Bob is a successful businessman from Greensboro, N.C., who first visited Grandfather Mountain more than sixty years ago. Since 2015, he has served as a volunteer business consultant for the management team at the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. He has served on numerous civic boards and is the founder and chairman of A Simple Gesture-Greensboro, a food collection not-for-profit that supports food pantries in Guilford County. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel with a degree in business administration.
Mike Leonard is one of the South’s leaders in land protection. Mike served as Chair of the Board of The Conservation Fund from 2014-2019 and now works as Senior Real Estate Associate for the organization from his office in the historic town of Bethania, N.C. Throughout his career, he has provided valuable assistance to a number of non-profits and government agencies in protecting more than a quarter million acres in the southeast. Mike is a ninth generation North Carolinian and received his undergrad and law degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill. When he practiced law, he was named as one of the “Best Lawyers in America” in Mass Tort Litigation.
Catherine is the youngest daughter of Grandfather Mountain developer Hugh Morton and a founding member of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s Board of Directors. After 25 years working in public relations, advertising and marketing for Grandfather Mountain Inc., Catherine now focuses on her role as Secretary of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation Board of Directors when she is not growing and arranging flowers.
Judy (Julia MacRae Morton) is the eldest daughter of Grandfather Mountain developer Hugh Morton and a founding member of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s Board of Directors. A resident of Greensboro, N.C., she has varied experience working in the non-profit sector having recently retired from the innovative community development organization, Action Greensboro.