A Green Giant – Sharing Our Remembrances of Dorothy

I delivered these remarks at Thursday’s memorial service for Heal the Bay founding president Dorothy Green, who passed away this week. We are encouraging others whose lives were touched by Dorothy to share their thoughts and remembrances by submitting comments to this blog entry.

Dorothy was so much to so many. Wife, mother, grandmother, environmental icon, friend, philanthropist, and activist.  For me, she was my mentor and she was my closest friend.  When I think of Dorothy and her unparalleled success as an environmental leader, there are so many amazing traits that made up the woman. 

She was:

Tireless  When I first started working at Heal the Bay in 1988 as a graduate student, Dorothy was the president and the hardest-working volunteer in the environmental movement.  She routinely worked 80 hours a week.  By leading by example, she instilled in me a work ethic to fight for the environment every day of the year.  For Dorothy, there was always too much work to be done to waste time on resting. No one had more passion for water quality protection and sustainable water supply policy than Dorothy. Her herculean efforts to complete her book “Managing Water: Avoiding Crisis in California” while she was fighting cancer exemplified her will and courage.

Entrepreneurial  Name another environmental leader that has started three major environmental groups and the most important water conference in California.  She was not cursed with the “Founder’s Syndrome” of so many non-profit group leaders.  She came up with brilliant yet simple ideas, and organized communities and leaders around those principles.  She was a true visionary. As soon as the groups matured from infancy to maturity, Dorothy moved on to the next important water cause in California.  She did it at Heal the Bay.  She did it at the LA/San Gabriel River Watershed Council, and she did it at the California Water Impact Network. She always focused her energy on where she was needed most.

Innovative  Dorothy always seemed to be a few years before her time. In the early 1990s, she started the Unpave LA movement, which everyone is calling Low Impact Development or Green Infrastructure today.  Around the same time, Dorothy started advocating for the use of stormwater recharge as a new, reliable source of local water.  This concept came into vogue only a few years ago. Under her watch, Heal the Bay developed a recognizable identity with the skeleton fish logo and was one of the first groups to partner with advertising agencies to get the word out to millions. She knew the power of the media and education and embraced it.  Dorothy always looked forward.  She had no use for looking backwards when so much needed to be done today and in the future.

Selfless  If there was one thing Dorothy hated to talk about, it was herself.  Even at home in her last days, I asked her what she wanted as her legacy as an environmental leader.  She refused to engage in the discussion. No matter how hard I tried, she only wanted to talk about California’s dysfunctional water supply policy, Heal the Bay or my family. For Dorothy, results were all that mattered.  Credit and newspaper coverage were just tools to achieve environmental success. The most recent example of this involved her last editorial in the Times last week.  This was Dorothy’s last word on what California needed to move towards sustainable water supply management. She told her close friend and Times’ editor, Sue Horton, that she was grateful for Steve Lopez’ piece on her legacy, not because it was flattering, but  because it allowed her piece to be published, thereby creating an opportunity to move the state on the right track.

Persuasive  What set Dorothy apart was her ability to attract and engage talented volunteers of all skills and turn them into tireless activists that felt privileged to protect the environment.  In other words, she could talk you into doing anything to clean up our water or protect our water supplies.  Raise your hand if Dorothy ever cajoled you into volunteering?  You could never say no to her.  And she never said no to people who asked from her. Whether you were in the entertainment industry, the media, an engineer, advertising, retail, a scientist, a planner, a lawyer, a photographer, a writer, a handyman, an IT guy, a financier, a regulator, or an artist – Dorothy had the perfect volunteer job for you.  Long hours.  No pay. Most rewarding job you’ve ever had.

Supportive  Dorothy encouraged volunteers to come up with creative and far-reaching ideas, and then encouraged them to follow their dreams.  Whether it was a crazy but brilliant fundraising idea like surfboard art,  a museum, retail store or aquarium,  a multi-media ad campaign, or million dollar-plus water quality studies, Dorothy was always there to encourage and support. And then you got to do the work!  Self reliance was a quality she cultivated in all of us and our reward was the work itself and her always effusive praise.

Single minded   Dorothy may have loved music and the theater, and she was a voracious reader, but her laser-like focus on water issues was legendary.  She was the bravest, strongest person I’ve ever met.  In just a few short months, the story of Dorothy having her cancerous kidney and spleen removed, and then attending a Heal the Board meeting a week later, has become the stuff of legends. I loved her so much for many reasons, not the least of which, she was the one person that I could talk to about sewage to during breakfast, lunch and dinner . . . on the same day!

Integrity  Dorothy spoke the truth whether you were a volunteer, a governor, a scientist, or the mayor, and sometimes it stung a little. If you came up with a policy recommendation that she didn’t like, she’d crinkle up her nose, look you in the eye, and say, “That doesn’t make sense.” This was her way of challenging you to convince her of the merits of your idea.  If she said that a law or regulation had no teeth, then you knew it wouldn’t result in environmental protection. You could always count on Dorothy to be the one in the room to say that the emperor had no clothes.  I loved her for that.

Brilliant  Dorothy had no formal academic training in water quality, environmental science and policy, or water supply yet she knew as much as any Ph.D., regulator or lawyer.  Whether it was the intricacies of water rights law or the engineering specs for full secondary treatment facilities, Dorothy knew her stuff.  And her amazing common sense always gave her the edge. Those who negotiated with Dorothy and underestimated her, did so at their own peril. 

Immortal I never thought this day would come.  Dorothy was so strong and has overcome so many enormous obstacles to achieve so much, that I just never thought she would leave us.  There is too much work that still needs to be done.  I loved her so much, and relied on her constantly over the last 22 years.  She was there at my wedding to my beautiful wife Lisette and at my son Zack’s Bar Mitzvah many years later. Now . . . she is gone. . . . .  But is she really?  Look around you at the incredible people that she has touched, inspired and taught.

In the late 1980s, Heal the Bay urged the public to “Leave something for your children to remember you by.”  Dorothy’s legacy is far more than a healthier Bay.  She awakened the activist in all of us.  She taught us to fight for our rights to clean water, healthy watersheds and sustainable water supply. She inspired us to protect the environment without compromise because the environment gives us so much in return. She created a generation of environmental leaders in areas ranging from science to policy to the media — the influence of which can be felt on the local, statewide, national and even international level.

Today we celebrate and remember Dorothy’s incredible accomplishments, passion for what is right, wonderful smile, and sharp wit.  Tomorrow, and for generations to come, we owe it to Dorothy to honor her life by doing everything we can to restore, protect and preserve the environment.  Our children and our children’s children deserve a better world.  And Dorothy would accept nothing less from all of us.

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10 Responses

  1. I interviewed Dorothy in 1990 for my Public Acess environmental news network show. Having know her since 1984 I always found her on top of the issues and ready to act to improve the quality of our Bay. As a surfer and activiist I found her a fellow friend of the ocean like few others I had met.

  2. I first learned about Dorothy Green when I trained for HtB’s Speakers Bureau. When I finally met her personally I was tempted to bow low and exclaim “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy,” but I didn’t. She certainly saw my sense of reverance for her in my eyes but paid it no attention. She simply said “Thank you for helping us.” Five years later, I found this blog and am overjoyed that people continue to hold her dear to their heart.

    At a HtB fundraiser at the Jonathon Club, Erin Brockovich gave a moving address titled “One person can make a difference.” Dorothy is a perfect example of how true that is. Every time I volunteer to swim with steelhead in Malibu Creek, collect a water turbidity sample in Malibou Lake,or pick up a bagful of trash at Topanga Beach, I thank Dorothy for giving me this opportunity to, as I stated when I accepted HtB’s Superhealer Award in 2001, “Do what I enjoy with people I love.”

  3. I met Dorothy in the early 80’s when we were both on the Board of the L.A. League of Conservation Voters(LALCV). For the next 8+ years I was at Dorothy’s home so often I thought that my car could get there without me. Meetings frequently became dinner and I had the good fortune of dining with Dorothy, Jack and which ever of the kids happen to be there. Its impossible for me to think of Dorothy without thinking of Jack. His warmth and humor complimented Dorothy and his support of her was unstinting.

    And as Mark says, Dorothy was certainly persuasive. In 1982 when she was leading the fight against the Peripheral Canal, she persuaded me and a few others to march in the Pasadena Doo Dah parade dragging an improvised water canon with which we squirted the crowd while handing out anti-canal literature. The canal was defeated at the polls and i’m sure that the canon did the trick!?

    Dorothy’s true genius was her gut level feeling about what the public would embrace if there was leadship on an issue. Heal the Bay is a perfect example. Dorothy went to a hearing on L.A.’s sewage treatment and understood that this was a major issue for people who swam in Santa Monica Bay. She took that back to LALCV and established a committee to look into the issue. Heal the Bay began as a committee of LALCV and soon became a separate organization with Dorothy’s leadership. The rest is history.
    Several years ago LALCV honored Dorothy. Her acceptance speech was typical of her selflessness. Instead of talking about her accomplishments, she exhorted the crowd to support LALCV.

    I have never met anyone like Dorothy. She loved what she was doing and almost never took credit, preferring instead to share the accolades with the people she had recruited, encouraged and mentored. Dorothy loved people and was loved in return. She could,at times, be difficult to deal with but always because she so believed in the cause.

    Dorothy left a void when she died. A void in committed and passionate leadership with the ability to include people as equals for their ability and commitment. It shows in everything she touched and touched her.

  4. Dorothy Green was an amazing woman and it was an honor to have the chance to work with her and get to know her. I enjoyed every minute I spent in her presence and I learned a great deal from her. It is unbelievable how much she accomplished in her life. We can all learn a lot about life from the way she lived it. Now it is time to carry on the work she started.

  5. Dorothy Green was an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere. I was lucky enough to know her in her healthier years while I worked for Heal the Bay. She was such a pleasant and friendly lady , who was never out of touch with the organization she founded. I loved her kindred spirit. Without her passion, I would have never known about the problems that face the bay and what we can do to make a difference. I try to instill the same passion and respect for the environment in my students in our environmental club. She was a special lady!

  6. Whenever I feel I need a model for how to live my life I think of Dorothy Green. What an inspiration.

  7. Dorothy Green was the shining example of what an
    activist can do in this country. Heal The Bay started with her commitment to this city to make it better for everyone. Since I first met her in 1984 she was always
    the standard by which I measured citizenship in a democracy. Its is only limited by our imagination.

  8. A wonderful caring person; I met her years ago and she surely inspired me, and I imagine many others. She will be missed.

  9. Thanks so much for the more recent photo of Dorothy in the blue jacket on the beach. She looks like the beautiful, natural, relaxed Dorothy I remember and love.

  10. Dorothy Green is one of my role models. I respected her passion and her energy, and her absolute committment to clean water. I am humbled by her courage, and inspired by her work.

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