A Fond Farewell
Laurance Rockefeller. Frances Reese. Everett Nack.
The Valley has lost three titans who worked tirelessly to protect all that makes the region so special. In these remembrances, written by people who knew them well, their humanity is
celebrated along with their many accomplishments
Laurance S. Rockefeller: Unassuming Giant
Remembered by Nash Castro
The words emblazoned on Laurance RockefellerÂ¡Â¯s Congressional Gold Medal tell it all: Â¡Â°Conservationist, Humanitarian, Champion of Natural and Human Values.Â¡Â± He was the 97th person in our nationÂ¡Â¯s history Â¡Âª and the first conservationist Â¡Âª to receive this extraordinary recognition.
In awarding the medal to him at a White House ceremony in 1991, President George H.W. Bush said: Â¡Â°I present this medal because your life and work give honor to America. As long as this piece of gold glistens, may grateful Americans remember how you devoted mind and soul to labors of love for our great country.Â¡Â±
Laurance Rockefeller was a quiet, humble man of great dignity and integrity. He was impeccably courteous, affable, visionary, intelligent, witty, and open-hearted. He declined credit for his accomplishments and was quick to praise others. He was the most honorable man I ever knew.
I met him in the Johnson White House in 1964, he as a member of Lady Bird JohnsonÂ¡Â¯s Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, I as an advisor to her. In 1969, I accepted his invitation to join him in New York as executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC). When I retired in 1990, I joined his staff as a consultant on conservation matters. He was my mentor and friend for 40 years, and I treasure every one of them.
Laurance Rockefeller devoted more than 60 of his 94 years to the conservation of our natural and historic resources, beginning with his appointment to the PIPC in 1939 at age 29. His was a swift metamorphosis into conservation, and an enduring and productive devotion to it. He served on the commission for 40 years; as its president from 1970 to 1979, he enlarged the park by 23 percent, to 81,000 acres. One of his many triumphs was bringing Minnewaska State Park into being. In 1970, he met in Washington with Interior Secretary Walter Hickel and prevailed upon him to allocate $1.5 million for the purchase of some of the privately owned property. With the grant, the first 7,000 acres of the new park were bought.
As chairman of the New York State Council of Parks, he enlarged the park system and restructured it for better operation. His conservation endeavors with the Hudson River Valley Commission, Palisades Commission, Sleepy Hollow Restorations (now Historic Hudson Valley), Jackson Hole Preserve, the American Conservation Association (which he founded in 1956), the National Recreation and Park Association, the New York Zoological Society, and other conservation-related entities propelled him onto the national stage. Here, too, he performed with great enthusiasm and telling effect.
Rockefeller served under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, chairing groups such as the White House Conference on Natural Beauty and the National Park Foundation. In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed him chairman of the National Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, a fact-finding advisory group created to determine the nationÂ¡Â¯s recreation needs to the year 2000. From its recommendations emerged some of the most significant conservation legislation of the past century, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Bureau of Outdoor
Recreation, the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, and the Wilderness Act.
Out of his personal funds, he gave two parks to the nation: Virgin Island National Park and VermontÂ¡Â¯s Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. (It took considerable persuasion from some of us for him to approve the use of the Rockefeller name in the latter parkÂ¡Â¯s title.) He also gave his Jackson Hole property for the enlargement of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Closer to home, he gave all of the land for Hudson Highlands State Park and considerable acreage for the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.
No project involving the well-being of his fellow human beings was too small or unimportant to him. He ventured into the fight against cancer, beginning an alliance with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 1947 and serving as its chairman from 1960 to 1982. He underwrote a two-year study out of which came the creation of New York CityÂ¡Â¯s Family Court. At the same time, he engaged in developing environmentally compatible resorts in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Wyoming, Arizona, and Vermont, and was a pioneer in the venture capital industry, investing in companies such as Piasecki Helicopters (now Boeing) and Apple Computer. Profits from these and other ventures underwrote much of his philanthropic work. Â¡Â°I like doing constructive things with my money, rather than just trying to make more,Â¡Â± he once said.
Laurance Rockefeller labored always with passion for a better tomorrow for all of humanity. Â¡Â°We were a spiritually minded, religious family,Â¡Â± he wrote in 1997. Â¡Â°It was FatherÂ¡Â¯s belief that of those Â¡Â®unto whom much is given, much is required.Â¡Â¯ Â¡Â± As a Â¡Â°Conservationist, Humanitarian, and Champion of Natural and Human Values,Â¡Â± he was a giant.
Nash Castro is retired in Williamsburg, Virginia, but he continues to serve on a number of boards, among them Historic Hudson Valley, Jackson Hole Preserve, and the White House Historical Association. He is beginning to write a memoir of his White House days and his work with Lady Bird Johnson and Laurance Rockefeller.
Frances S. Reese:Beating the Odds
Remembered by Klara B. Sauer
Franny Â¡Âª Â¡Â°the Force,Â¡Â± renowned for her scrupulous integrity and messianic zeal to make our environment safe for all! Larger than life, she was my model, mentor, and tormentor: revered, feared, and beloved.
Though listed on many mastheads as Frances S. Reese, to most people she was known simply as Franny. I first encountered her in 1976, three years before she asked me to become executive director of Scenic Hudson, the organization she helped found, chaired for 20 years, and continued to guide for another 20. Addressing a group of Â¡Â°experts,Â¡Â± primarily men spouting jargon, Franny eloquently espoused the urgency of protecting the Hudson RiverÂ¡Â¯s ecosystem and landscapes. She wore a sweater, skirt, tie-shoes, and, most peculiarly, a hairnet Â¡Âª even then out of style. The net tamed FrannyÂ¡Â¯s gloriously thick hair, reducing grooming time so she could devote it to more important matters. (She didnÂ¡Â¯t relinquish it until the 1990s.)
After her speech, several men derided her goals as unrealistic and bad for the economy. Well, they were wrong! Over time, Franny achieved triumphs considered impossible. Enlisting the support of thousands of citizens, she galvanized grassroots community action all along the river, getting people to voice their concerns at town meetings and to their legislators. From the beginning, her brand of activism made Scenic Hudson known. Waging a campaign in the courts and Congress to save Storm King Mountain from being excavated by Con Edison to construct a power plant, the historic 1965 Â¡Â°Scenic Hudson DecisionÂ¡Â± gave ordinary citizens a voice in environmental disputes. It became the cornerstone of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act and spurred the national environmental movement.
Franny was a classy lady with impeccable manners, always wearing a smile that could indicate support or disbelief. Though some did not agree with positions she took, both friend and foe respected her ethics, eloquence, sharp mind, and honesty. When she spoke, her evocative phrases Â¡Âª like Â¡Â°We better be ready with our mouths open when the cherry drops from the treeÂ¡Â± Â¡Âª would turn a meandering debate into sharp focus.
From my first day at Scenic Hudson, Franny made it her mission to bring me up to speed. Always arriving with two tote bags crammed with books and technical reports for me to bone up on, she was a demanding taskmistress. She didnÂ¡Â¯t hesitate to call me at all hours at home, including Sunday evenings, giving me assignments to be completed early the next morning. A consummate teacher, she introduced me to leaders of other organizations, so that I might Â¡Â°learn something.Â¡Â± We also met with foundation decision-makers and major donors, and toured the halls of Albany and Washington. Her tutelage inspired me to reach beyond the boundaries of my own expectations.
Married to Willis Reese, a towering figure in law and a professor at Columbia, she was the mother of four sons and a daughter, and had six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Willis, her champion booster, died in 1990. Though her achievements are too numerous to list here, she was most proud of her family, often recounting tales about their lives.
When she was struck down in a car accident in July 2003 at age 85, Franny was in her prime. While most octogenarians enjoy retirement, there was nothing retiring about her. She was tenaciously immersed in leadership roles at Marist College, Boscobel, Locust Grove, the House of the Redeemer, and, of course, Scenic Hudson. She also played tennis, painted watercolors, took pottery classes, read books in French, wrote poetry, analyzed complicated legal documents, and hand-wrote cheery notes to people needing a lift. Each square in her calendar was crowded with appointments.
Franny was indefatigable. Once, she and a crew of volunteers dropped off at the post office 30 sacks of fund-raising letters, only to discover that a new court decision made the letters irrelevant. She coaxed the postmaster to return the mail and announced the need for help on the radio. Dozens of strangers streamed to her house to slit open 20,000 envelopes, stuff them with new material, reseal, resort by zip code, and return all to the post office in record time. Franny was also at once frugal and uncommonly generous: frugal in that she abhorred waste, insisting on carpooling and paper recycling before they became the norm; generous in abundantly sharing her talent and her concern for others, as well as in her gifts of philanthropy.
Today, thanks to Franny Reese, the Hudson River is cleaner, dozens of parks line its banks, agricultural lands have been saved, historic sites have been protected, and tourism has become a vital industry. It has also been designated a National Heritage Area, an American Heritage River, and a Greenway. No other river can claim these combined distinctions.
Frances S. Reese had a profound impact, directly and indirectly, on the lives of all who live in the Hudson Valley. I count myself lucky to have known and learned from her.
Executive director of Scenic Hudson from 1979-1999, Klara B. Sauer pioneered the creation of the Hudson River Greenway and helped secure Congressional designation of the region as a National Heritage Area and Presidential designation of the Hudson as an American Heritage River. She is now a consultant to nonprofit and government agencies.
Everett Nack: Last of the Rivermen
Remembered by Frances Dunwell & Tom Lake
Everett Nack was a man who lived for the river and drew life from the river, savoring everything that nature had to offer. He knew its seasons and moods as a person whose spirit and livelihood depended on it. In spring, the busiest season, he fished for American shad and 300-pound sturgeon, and collected fruit and flowers for homemade wine. In summer, he picked berries, caught bait, and repaired his nets. In autumn, he was considered by most to be the consummate waterfowler, hunting ducks and geese on the Hudson. Winter was a time for hunting whitetails, running traplines, carving basswood into duck decoys, and jigging for yellow perch lurking under the ice. This was all fodder for the tales he loved to tell. People would find themselves spending hours in his bait shop in Claverack just to hear his next story.
One of the few remaining commercial fishermen on the Hudson, Everett was single-minded about making sure his beloved river was protected, no matter whose cage he rattled. Over the years he took the witness stand in court cases, spoke to the press, wrote to legislators, met with governors and agency commissioners, and interviewed with filmmakers. In every situation, he spoke with a knowledge that few people could match.
Â¡Â°There are less bait fish in the river these days,Â¡Â± he would say, or Â¡Â°There is too much chlorine getting into the creeks from the sewage treatment plants and killing the minnows.Â¡Â± Often he was right, as in the case of Hudson South Bay, when he alerted city and state officials about pollution from a discharge pipe into a tidal wetland. This allowed officials to identify the problem and fix it.
Everett had wide-ranging interests and was always available to help make things better. He could talk about the shad run, PCBs, fisheries research, or how to follow a crow to its nest. He served on the Department of Environmental ConservationÂ¡Â¯s Hudson River Estuary Advisory Committee, caught sturgeon for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hatchery, and supplied live shad for restocking the Susquehanna River, where the stocks had disappeared because of dam construction. Researchers hired Everett to collect fish for their studies. Even on Christmas Eve he would be out working on the river Â¡Âª the spray freezing on the gunwales, his net as stiff as a board Â¡Âª doing what he loved best.
Everett operated the last commercial haul seine operation on the Hudson, a 600-foot net, and trained a new generation in those fishing methods. On a good day, he would catch hundreds of fish of a dozen species. (EverettÂ¡Â¯s operation was famous for its Â¡Â°all-girl crew,Â¡Â± an assemblage of family and friends who were available on weekdays to work the net and haul in the catch.) It was a skill he passed on to his five devoted children and the oldest of his 10 grandchildren.
Everett was also a carpenter, contractor, businessman, cook, and a veteran, but he was truly at one with the river Â¡Âª and one of the last true Rivermen. To friends, he represented a connection to nature and the environment that has largely been lost.
Frances Dunwell is Hudson River Estuary Coordinator at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Tom Lake is the Hudson River Estuary ProgramÂ¡Â¯s Estuary Naturalist, as well as editor of the Hudson River Almanac. Â¡Ã¶