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.