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22
Sep

In Memory of Daniel Heagerty: Environmentalist, advocate, mentor and dear friend.

 

This summer our RRI team member Daniel Heagerty passed away in the company of family, at his home in Mill Valley, California. He was 72. We are all heartbroken that Daniel has passed. What a loss to the world and our little corner of the world. Daniel was a huge part of RRI; a dear friend, generous collaborator, passionate environmentalist, brilliant strategist, and founder of two of our most important partner organizations – Generation Our Climate and Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League. Both of the organizations Daniel founded reflect his values and talents. 

Daniel launched Granite Chief Protection League to defend this pristine Sierra wilderness from encroachment by commercial interests. The area held a special place in his heart – he first hiked Five Lakes Trail and Granite Chief in the early 1960’s, when his family built a cabin in Alpine Meadows. In 2020, Daniel won the battle for Granite Chief, capping a forty-year career leading water policy reform, ecosystem restoration and public lands conservation. 

Generation Our Climate embodied his belief that teenagers – those most affected by the climate crisis – are also the most effective advocates for change. He was a great mentor to his student activists, who often gave powerful testimony before California boards and agencies, moving state and local leaders with their knowledge and sense of purpose. 

Over these last two years, several of us met frequently to plan for RRI’s future, often delightfully hosted by Daniel on his deck. He has left an indelible mark on our organization and will continue to inspire our work – and our lives. We are deeply grateful that he devoted so much of his precious time and energy to us – especially recently. We already miss him dearly, his quick wit and warmth and and sparkling blue eyes. 

As Daniel expressed recently, “If we the public are not diligent in demanding the sustainable stewarding of our natural resource trust assets, then we are failing as the parents of future generations.” One member of the younger generation he cared about and believed in so deeply is Luci Paczkowski, a Generation Our Climate leader who shared a close friendship with Daniel. Her touching tribute captures why Daniel means so much to us all – and always will.

_____________________

“You got this kid!”

I stood behind the foreboding podium at my local town council, a short speech and list of demands crumpled in my hand. I was about to testify and advocate for my environmental rights for the first time and I was terrified. 

And then I heard that voice.

Turning, I saw Dan behind me, standing amid the crowd with a goofy grin on his face holding two thumbs up. He gave me a loud whoop and casually sat back down in his chair, the townspeople around him gawking. 

How could you not smile after seeing that? 

This small encouragement is something I look back on quite a bit. And something I especially appreciate about Dan. His dedication to making me feel comfortable and powerful enough to be listened to. His insistence that my voice and opinion mattered. 

I’ve known Dan since I was fifteen. And now as an almost twenty-one-year-old reflecting on my time with him, I can confidently say he has been one of the most influential people in my life. 

It is incomprehensible how much time, money, and energy Dan invested into Generation: Our Climate. Before my fellow teammates and I could drive, Dan would pull up to our homes on early Saturday mornings ready to drive us to Sacramento for meetings with the EPA. He always brought us coffees and lovingly slammed  on the horn if we took too long inside our homes. Dan would push through crowds with us and make sure the adults in the room respected us. At the first climate march we planned he helped me convince the San Francisco police to let us take over the Embarcadero for “just another hour.” 

Dan had so many interests and passions, his family, his community, and always the world around him. We went on walks around Spirit Rock and Dan would identify every bird we saw in our path, excitedly spewing fun facts about migration patterns. He proudly showed me photos of his granddaughter wearing a clown costume. And when I asked him about his younger years in 1970’s Oregon , he said he would “tell me about those years when I got older.” 

One of my favorite moments with Dan was created over coffee in San Anselmo. I tearfully explained to him how I did not know how to continue my climate activism without him. I felt I had lost part of my identity to the pandemic. And I was scared to grow up. 

Dan held up a finger and quickly rifled through his leather bag. He pulled out a dog eared copy of the Tao Te Ching, quickly circled a passage and scribbled something on the page. “This always helps me when I feel untethered and scared,” he said.  

At this point Dan was three years into his illness. I knew how extensive it was. But despite it all, he had never admitted his personal feelings about his situation. 

I leaned over the table and gave him the biggest hug I could muster. Here was my greatest mentor during a critical period in my life showing me, despite the curveballs of life, that it was ok to be scared, sad, or confused and turn out on top. 

I still have his copy of Tao Te Ching on my nightstand. It reminds me of Dan’s strength, his courage. His ability to soothe people. His leadership. His passion. His heart

Dan was a truly incredible human. He was responsible for so many things that are deeply important to me. I would not be the advocate, student, and person I am without him. 

I miss Dan every day.

We love you Dan. Thank you for everything. 

 

We believe the greatest tribute to Daniel is to continue his important work. 

Learn more about Daniel’s life and work. 

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