The Passing of an Environmental Legend

More photos of Dorothy at Flickr.com (new window)My closest friend and mentor passed away today. Words you never want to express. After six years of redefining courage in her fight against cancer, Dorothy Green died peacefully in her Westwood home. The same home that spawned Heal the Bay, the Los Angeles/San Gabriel River Watershed Council, the POWER (Public Officials for Water and Environmental Reform) conference, and the California Water Impact Network.

I first met Dorothy when I was a grad student at UCLA. In 1986, she came to speak in a class taught by Stephanie Pincetl in Urban Planning. I was so moved by her talk about the new environmental group Heal the Bay that I went up to her after class and asked to volunteer. That was the first time I ever volunteered for an environmental group.

Two years later, I became Heal the Bay’s first hire, as its staff scientist. Dorothy, as a volunteer, taught me all about work ethic by routinely putting in 80 hours a week. Also, Dorothy taught me that you can’t be successful in any field of advocacy without passion for the cause. No one had more passion for water quality protection and sensible water supply policy than Dorothy.

When I think of what made Dorothy such an amazingly effective leader, traits like tirelessness, perseverance, intelligence and selflessness come to mind. She was a straight-shooter with very strong ethics. Amazingly, Dorothy had no formal academic training in water quality, environmental science and policy or water supply, yet she knew as much as anyone in those fields. Those who negotiated with Dorothy and underestimated her did so at their own peril. However, to me, what set Dorothy apart was her ability to attract and engage talented volunteers of all skills and turn them into tireless activists that feel privileged to protect the environment.

I was one of those volunteers and she gave me the responsibility of fighting for clean beaches, stopping stormdrain pollution, and advocating for upgrades at the County Sanitation Districts’ sewage treatment plant in Carson as my first responsibilities. I could have felt overwhelmed and overmatched, but Dorothy would never allow that. She was always there for me, no matter how small or large the fight was for clean water.

The last action that Dorothy took was writing an op-ed piece for the Times. It was Dorothy’s last word on California’s dysfunctional water policy. True to form, Dorothy didn’t write about her far reaching legacy or about issues that she has addressed in editorials before like a sustainable water supply policy. Instead, she wrote about the specific, detailed actions that must occur for California to avoid the impending water supply crisis. The piece was clear, concise and direct, as one would expect from Dorothy.

Also, the lesson was clear, don’t waste time getting sentimental over all of her extraordinary accomplishments. There is a fight to be won, and nothing less than the fate of California’s precious water resources is at stake. We should all do what we can to make Dorothy’s last editorial become the cornerstone for a sustainable water supply in California. California needs a “Dorothy’s Law” as much as we all needed Dorothy Green, and with the impacts of climate change, dysfunctional water rights policy, and growing population, we don’t have a moment or a drop to waste.

A public memorial service will be held Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 2 p.m. at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, in Los Angeles.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to Heal the Bay, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council or California Water Impact Network.

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9 Responses

  1. Mark – enjoyed reading the blog today, and especially this fond reminiscence of Dorothy Green. Although I love in Atlanta (a sadly land-locked city) I am familiar with Heal the Bay after reading about and being inspired by what you do. On my blog Boundless Drama of Creation (www.bounldessdramaofcreation.com) I recently posted an essay on Dorothy Green from a slightly different perspective – one of Jewish leadership. Even from afar she inspired… The blog post can be found at:

    http://boundlessdrama.wordpress.com/2008/10/24/heal-the-bay-heal-the-world-in-memory-of-dorothy-green/

    Not knowing her, you or her family, I nevertheless thought it would be nice to share with you all.

    All the best,
    Seth Cohen
    scohen @ kilpatrickstockton.com

  2. Dear Mark,

    Dorothy’s passing is a sad occasion for people like yourself who were so lucky as to know her, to work with her, to be called a friend by her, and to benefit from her wisdom. I got to know Dorothy during my service as Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles’ Office of Water Reclamation, which she vigorously supported and guided for the five years of its existence in the 1990s.

    Our friendship continued and we visited often, discussing water policy, her activism, and her book. Dorothy was genuinely interested in policy, politics, public service, and anything to do with water–especially California water. She shared my own passion for wise use of water and especially for water recycling. She has left a big hole in my life, not likely to be filled for a long time to come.

    Bahman Sheikh

  3. I hope you’re ok, our family is sending warm thoughts your way! Her love, hope, and work will never fade away. Her spirt is inside people like you and it will be forever! I for one am down to work 80 hours a week forever too:) I am still up at midnigth working right now. Back to it. Hugs, Heather

  4. Dorothy Green was an amazing, dedicated environmental activist who devoted her life to the cause of a better world and truly made the world a better place. She was a role model for all.

    However as I look at the image above of the guy sitting in his chair and sewage pouring on his head, I can’t help think of Howard Bennett who has been completely written out of this organizations history for 28 years.

    It was he who formed the “Coalition to Stop Dumping Raw Sewage into the Ocean” which successfully exposed the issue to the public.

    Howard started the coalition after he was informed that the city had just received a five-year extension on a 301H waiver which allowed them to exceed sewage pollution levels required by the Clean Water Act of 1972. Howard, a Culver City high school English teacher and daily ocean swimmer, began holding press conferences, protests and letter writing campaigns and eventually forced the city to reverse their decision.

    At that time Dorothy Green was president of the League of Conservation Voters and her group joined Howard’s coalition. Later that summer after a successful and pivotal May hearing Howard turned the organization over to her. He was being overwhelmed by the constant publicity and pressures of being an environmental celebrity, he was receiving death threats at his home and it was having a negative effect on his marriage. He decided that his marriage was more important to him than becoming a environmental celebrity.

    After that Howard took his wife on a extended vacation and Dorothy Green continued protests in Los Angeles.

    By the time Howard returned from vacation ready to start the new school year, the pollution of Santa Monica Bay was the number one local political story. Although their success seemed imminent Howard did not want to leave anything to chance, he wanted to give the coalition one more shot in the arm. He decided to award the mayor and the city Council the Dirty Toilet Awards shortly before the final decision would be made.

    When Dorothy found out about what Howard was planning to do she threatened to disassociate herself if he went through with it. From what I understand her reasoning was that the mayor’s office was coming around, was cooperating and she didn’t want anything to undermine the progress they’d had. Howard wasn’t concerned about the mayor’s political aspirations and went ahead with news conference. It turned out to be one of the most successful conferences they had that year. Unfortunately for Howard since that day he has been written out of the history of this well known organization

    Dorothy ran the organization for many years and Howard only months, yet it was the effort of Howard Bennett that got the organization started and catapulted it to its initial success by forcing the city to upgrade Hyperion to full secondary treatment. Without the work of Howard Bennett Heal the Bay might not exist today.

    I hope that someday soon the Heal the Bay will let go of whatever political or personal reasons they might have that have kept them from acknowledging the truth about the organizations beginnings and give credit were it is due.

    PS this is all easily verifiable through newspaper and television accounts of the 1985 events.

  5. Mark –

    I was very sorry to hear the news of Dorothy’s passing — somehow I thought that her passion and drive would last for many more years. People like her are so very hard to find — committed and caring individuals who only want to make the world a better place, and not use their notoriety or position for political gain or ego gratification. She exemplified the meaning of giving unselfishly.

    I hope she knows that she in fact, succeeded in making OUR world a better place. My condolences to you, your family and to hers.

    O. Amaro

  6. Mark,

    Sorry to hear about Dorothy. It has been a pleasure partnering with you and your awesome team this year. Beth sent us the links to the LA Times and to your blog and I will pass it around to the NBC team that participates with HTB. You and your work continue Dorothy’s legacy and with that we know her legacy will live on with integrity, character and purpose.

    Peace!
    Skylar Aud
    NBC Universal

  7. […] Mark Gold, the current Executive Director of Heal the Bay also sent out a note this morning, in which he commented about Dorothy: “There never would have been a Heal the Bay without her. When I look at the movement that she has led and the leaders that she helped create, my amazement and admiration knows no boundaries.” Mark also put up a very nice statement on his blog. LINK […]

  8. I was so sorry to hear about this today. Having worked with many volunteer organizations, I was always impressed at how well Dorothy regarded the volunteers at Heal the Bay while I was there. She will be greatly missed!

  9. Hi Mark,

    So sorry to hear about the passing of Dorothy – I know you two were very close. I only met her a handfull of times, but found her to be a truly extraordinary woman: very intelligent, very warm, very committed. She accomplished so much, we are all in her debt.

    Please accept my conolences.

    Regards,

    — Paul

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