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.
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.