HUMAN OBITUARIES

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2000:

 

David Brower, 88, died on July 5
at his lifelong home in Berkeley, California.
Brower was a boyhood friend of longtime
San Francisco Zoo benefactor Carroll SooHoo.
After graduating from Berkeley High
School together in 1928 they remained in
touch until Soo-Hoo died in 1998. Joining
the Sierra Club in 1933, Brower was elected
to the board in 1941, and was hired as the
organization’s first executive director in
1952. By the time he resigned in 1969, he
had boosted the membership from 2,000 to
77,000, but was best known for activism in
the spirit of founder John Muir, 1838-1914.


Muir won federal protection for Yosemite as
a National Park, but lost a bitter fight against
building the Hetch-Hetchy Dam, which
drowned a spectacular gorge. Brower was
haunted by his parallel experience in fighting
federal plans to build four dams in the Grand
Canyon basin. He halted three at cost of
allowing construction of the Glen Canyon
dam to proceed. His national reputation
began at a 1954 Congressional hearing on a
dam that would have submerged much of
Dinosaur National Monument, when he
demonstrated major errors in the math used
by the Bureau of Reclamation to rationalize
the project. A Brower decision in 1960 to
publish photo collections by Ansel Adams
turned the Sierra Club Books imprint into a
business success, but a series of confrontations
with the Sierra Club board, Congress,
and the IRS over the growing involvement of
the club in political activity led to the club
temporarily losing tax-exempt status in 1966
and brought Brower’s departure three years
later, as well as the 1970 separation of the
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund from the
Sierra Club itself. The Sierra Club Legal
Defense Fund is now known as EarthJustice.
Brower founded both the John Muir Institute
for Environmental Studies and Friends of the
Earth before the end of 1969. Encounters
With The Archdruid, a 1971 volume of biographical
sketches of Brower by John
McPhee, boosted Brower to iconic status.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
in 1978, 1979, and 1998, but was never
inclined to either rest on his laurels or mellow
with age. Fired by the FoE board in 1984,
Brower was reinstated a month later, but
resigned for good in 1986 after continuing
conflict and founded Earth Island Institute,
which took an even more politically radical
direction as well as seeking––uniquely among
major environmental groups––to draw support
from the animal rights movement.
Brower meanwhile had returned to the Sierra
Club board in 1982. Despite several resignations,
he remained on the board most of the
time until early 2000, when he quit again.
“The world is burning,” Brower said, “and
all I hear from them is violins. May the
Sierra club become what John Muir wanted it
to be and what I have alleged that it was.”

 

Perry W. Gilbert, 87, died on
October 15 at his home in Sarasota, Florida.
Supervising routine student dissections of
dogfish sharks during the 1930s as a professor
of comparative anatomy at Cornell
University, Gilbert was inspired to seek U.S.
Navy funding to research ways to protect
humans from shark attack, but by the early
1970s was more concerned with protecting
sharks from human greed and misunderstanding.
Seeking a nonlethal anti-shark defense,
Gilbert at one point tried to train dolphins as
lifeguards. He and a colleague also invented
an anesthetic for sharks, which enabled them
to study large sharks close-up in the wild
without risk of a bite. At that, he often said,
“you’re safer in shark-infested waters than
driving to the beach.” His one-word assessment
of sharks: “Beautiful.”

William Naser, 48, of Portersville,
Pennsylvania, was killed in front of his
16-year-old son on the night of October 27
when he tried to drag an injured dog off of
U.S. 422 and was hit by a pickup truck driven
by Frank Chmura, 46, of New Castle.

Maria Gavara Gomez, 27, of
Colombia, drowned on October 22 when a
wave swept her off of rocks at Die Neus,
South Africa, during a whale-watching expedition.
In her enthusiasm at seeing whales
close-up she had wandered into an area locally
known as extremely dangerous, but not
marked with warning signs.

Theva Pongsuwan, 30, a ranger
at the Khao Ang Reu Nai wildlife sanctuary
in Thailand, was fatally shot by two poachers
on October 25 when he ordered them to surrender,
but returned fire as he died, killing
one of the poachers.

Mae Noell, cofounder with her late
husband Robert of the notorious Noell’s Ark
Chimp Farm in Palm Harbor, Florida, died
on October 15. The Noells started a traveling
“gorilla show” in 1940. It actually featured
chimpanzees who wrestled volunteers chosen
from the audience. The Noells started Noell’s
Ark as their winter quarters in 1954. Retiring
from the road in 1971, they bred chimpanzees
for the pet trade for some years and
ran the facility as a roadside zoo, which they
argued was actually a sanctuary, since they
did take in many abused, aged, or just plain
unwanted exotic pets. Fined and closed by
the USDA in 1992 for repeated violations of
the Animal Welfare Act, Noell’s Ark was
eventually stripped of its exhibition permit,
but won nonprofit status and had begun sending
out mailings soliciting funds with which
to make site improvements.

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