Environmentalists Mourn Loss of Icon

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Environmentalists all over the nation are mourning the loss of David Brower, a man who radiated inspiration in the fight to preserve the wilderness. He died of bladder cancer on Sunday in his Berkeley home at age 88.

Brower developed a passion for the outdoors early in life, as his father, a UC Berkeley professor, often took him hiking.

"He was imprinted by the Sierra Nevada, where his father took him," said Ken Brower, his son. "That is what he always said got him going in the direction he went. Now we plan to cremate him and return him to those same mountains."

In 1933, David Brower joined John Muir's small mountain club, the Sierra Club. In 1952 he went on to become the first executive director of the organization and, in his time there, membership increased by 70,000 and its budget increased from $75,000 to $3 million.

Brower was also the founder of the Earth Island Institute, the League of Conversation Voters and Friends of the Earth. All three groups had offspring action networks which went on to become big environmental organizations themselves.

"He was the guiding light of the environmental movement," said Mikhail Davis, director of the Brower Fund at the Earth Island Institute. "When making a decision, people often ask 'What would David Brower do in this situation?' We feel a loss right now, but we carry a bit of him with us. When you inspire as many people as he did, you really never die."

There are nine national parks, including Kings Canyon and Redwood National Park, that are accredited to Brower because of his role in creating them. He also worked to prevent dam construction at Grand Canyon National Park.

"He was a lovely man, very single-minded in defense of the earth, but with a lot of compassion," said Barbara Brower, his daughter. "I teach environmental issues and I don't have his optimism, so I would often get my students depressed. He would drop by, though, and my students would brighten up and ask questions. His power to inspire others is something that was amazing."

In addition to the battles he took part in, David Brower won many honors. He is credited with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"He always laughed and told me that although he was a sophomore dropout from UC Berkeley, he was a visiting professor at Stanford since he taught two quarters," Davis said. "And even though he dropped out of Berkeley, he still received 10 honorary degrees from there."

Even in his last days, Brower continued to make an impact. He was recently part of a battle to convince Caltrans and the California Legislature to allocate space for trains on the Bay Bridge.

Brower attended the Green Party convention in Denver last June and, just a day before his death, he cast an absentee vote for the party's presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.

"His motto was a quote by William Goethe," his son said. "'Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has a genius, power and magic in it.' My father never wasted his time beginning things."

Brower is survived by his wife of more than half a century, whom he met while working as editor of the University of California Press. He has four children and three grandchildren.

"He was absolutely consumed by the (environmental) movement," his son said. "Dinner table conversations were always about environmental issues. He took us kids to the mountains, gave us his ideas and converted us all. Environmentalism was almost a religion, and he really directed the course of all his children's lives."


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