Guest Post | Remembering the Honorable Don Edwards

Former San Jose Congressman Don Edwards passed away last week at the age of 100. I first met him in the mid-1980s when I was working on nuclear arms reduction issues in Washington, DC. For years, he inspired me with his intellect, integrity, decency and effectiveness in Congress.

We’re privileged to share this guest blog – a personal remembrance of Don Edwards by another personal hero of mine: Florence LaRiviere.

For decades Florence has led the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, and she shares how the Committee worked with Rep. Edwards to create the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country, right here in San Francisco Bay. It’s an inspiring example of how elected officials can be responsive to requests from the public, and why Don Edwards embodied hope. The Edwards’ family has suggested memorial donations to the Committee at www.bayrefuge.org.

– David Lewis

Florence LaRiviere
Florence LaRiviere stands before the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: U.S. FWS

 

I think it was one morning in the late 1960’s that I read a small notice in the Mercury News inviting anyone worried at the great rate the bay’s marshes were being destroyed, to come to an office in San Jose the following day.

That was my fist meeting with Art Ogilvie, a Santa Clara County planner who had the show-stopping idea that we could have a national wildlife refuge here, to save our remaining wetlands!

We went to every conceivable public meeting, showing pictures of our remarkable wildlife, and decrying the rapid destruction of most of the lands along the shoreline.

Then we arrived at the crucial moment — we had to have a member of congress to carry our bill to establish what proved to be a landmark, the first urban wildlife refuge in the nation.

As I remember, Art Ogilvie and Tom Harvey, biology professor at San Jose State, made the fateful visit to Congressman Don Edwards. They went, aware of his civil rights and peace activism, but knowing nothing about his environmental concerns. First, he took that most important beginning step — he listened to them. He recognized saving these lands was the right thing to do, and he had the vision and the political skill to bring along the entire bay area congressional delegation, with no regard to political party. Still, four years passed before his bill was enacted, and President Nixon signed it into law.

That was 1972 — we dusted off our hands, and had a party with Mr. Edwards to celebrate.

We felt pretty smug, in fact, it took us until 1986 to take another look and realize we were sadly lacking in a variety of habitat types. The only solution was to return to our congressman. And we did. His response was an immediate yes! This time, with the wonderful San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge already established, and soon to be named in his honor, the public responded with enthusiasm, and four hundred people came to Ohlone College to support Mr. Edwards at a public meeting on the issue. For once the opposition was wonderfully outnumbered by a large, enthusiastic and vocal group. This time, his bill was enacted the first year he proposed it, another red letter day — in October 1988!

Mr. Edwards’ living legacy is the marshes of San Francisco Bay, the wildlife that inhabits them, clean air and water and places of serenity for the human population.

His was a life well-lived.

– Florence LaRiviere, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge

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