Harold Dubuisson and Gaylord Nelson never knew each other. They had little in common, other than both being part of "The Greatest Generation." They certainly would not have favored each other’s politics. Nelson was a tireless champion of environmental regulations and Dubuisson was, as one of his son's said at his funeral, a "Southern Democrat."
Nelson worked for much of his life to shape public policy and regulations, much of it in favor of the environment and its protection. He introduced legislation mandating fuel efficiency standards, and eliminating the use of DDT and Agent Orange. He founded Earth Day, wrote the legislation that preserved the Appalachian Trail, and created a national park. He also helped craft landmark bills such as the Wilderness Act and the Clean Air Act.
Dubuisson was a "land man," a lawyer for international oil interests, a role that might rankle many of today's most ardent environmentalists. Yet, he was always conscious of the human, if not the environmental impacts of the deals he made. As a friend and colleague of Harold's in Indonesia told me earlier this year, Harold Dubuisson did much to help the people of that country.
Both men possessed the courage of their convictions and imparted an appreciation of the Earth’s natural resources to their children and grandchildren. Several of Harold's children followed in his footsteps in the oil business. Late in his life, Harold grew to appreciate the natural world from his garden in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Nelson's daughter, Tia, a former colleague of mine, has spent much of her career working on behalf of the environment. A short time ago, Tia said in an interview that her father still went into work at the Wilderness Society at the age of 89, because "the job's not done."
Another thing Nelson and Dubuisson had in common was an abiding interest in people. Nelson once said he never disliked anybody he had gotten to know. Dubuisson cultivated people of all stripes, which was one of his gifts as a dealmaker. He was always interested in the lives of others and in their passion for their work.
Harold Dubuisson was my father-in-law. I'm sure his interest in my work with a global conservation organization stemmed in part from his love for a son-in-law, but it was also because of our free market approach. He often asked after the details of a deal we did to protect a piece of land. Some of the carbon sequestration deals and debt-for-nature swaps we brokered intrigued him. I suspect the lawyer in him enjoyed the sophistication with which we approached land deals. Had he grown up in a different era, he might have applied his copious negotiation skills in the conservation arena.
The death of a father or father-in-law is never easy. That these two men died within weeks of one another is a coincidence, of course, and I try not to read too much into it. However, I do take away some strong lessons from both men:
-Believe in the power of your convictions;
-Strive for a balance between regulation and free market solutions;
-There are many ways to appreciate the natural world and its resources, many worldviews that contribute to how we live on the Earth, and none is more "right" than any other; and,
-In the final analysis, we all have a stake in what our environment provides.
Whether you work of behalf of energy, clean air, a piece of land or peace of mind, if you believe in it and work hard it's worth doing.