Canaan native and Skowhegan Area High School graduate Eliza Townsend got an early start in public affairs, tagging along with her parents, Bill and Louise Townsend.

This week, Eliza Townsend, 51, began work as the new executive director of The Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center.

“When I think about this job, I think about when I was about 4, my mother would take me to the board meetings of the Skowhegan library,” she said. “I would draw pictures for the ladies.”

She said she later used to tag along to school board-related meetings.

“Both my parents set an example for me of getting involved in public affairs and working on behalf of people and issues that you care about.”

Bill Townsend, a Skowhegan lawyer, is a well-known leader of Maine conservation and environmental groups. Louise Townsend retired this year from the Canaan Board of Selectmen after more than 40 years as an elected official, which included one term as a state representative and several on the local school board.

Eliza Townsend was elected four times to the Maine House of Representatives beginning in 1992, in District 36, which covers North Deering. She later served as executive director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters.

Townsend was most recently the commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.

Peaches Bass, board chairman of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center, said Townsend has been a strong and effective advocate for women.

“Eliza’s experience, qualifications, and proven track record of leadership success represent all that we were searching for and more,” Bass said in a statement. “The board of directors is thrilled that Eliza’s passion, commitment, and vision will be a part of our work increasing opportunities for Maine women and girls.”

Townsend attended McGill University in Montreal. She holds a master of fine arts in drama from Carnegie-Mellon University. She has two sons and will continue to reside in Portland, she said.

Townsend said her mission is to make sure the voices of Maine women are heard and “ensuring that public policy reflects the needs, realities and aspirations of women and girls is a mission close to my heart.”

She said as executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center, she will focus on economic security, freedom from violence and discrimination, and health and reproductive rights.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow may be contacted at 474-9534 or at: dharlow@centralmaine.com