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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 19  | March 5, 2021

You Must Remember This: A Hall of Fame recognizing local environmentalists


Fame. There are so many ways to celebrate it, but the most popular seems to be Halls of Fame. Every sport has a hall of fame, rock and roll has a hall of fame, mascots, social workers, even robots have halls of fame. There seems to be one glaring omission, however. There is no hall for environmentalists. Trying to create one at the national level is a bit intimidating, but perhaps we could have our own hall of fame right here at the local level.

Some early nominations: 

Mary Burton – Thanks to her, we have a beach at Big Corona instead of houses. A housing project was well on its way to approval when she unearthed a sweetheart deal between the city attorney and the potential developer. End of development, preservation of beach.

Isabel Pease – She was the Johnny Appleseed of CdM, making sure that lots of trees were planted. Her manner wasn’t always polite, but she got results as attested by our urban forest.

Marshall Duffield, Sr. – Imagine a freeway bisecting the city and the traffic that it would bring. Duffield, a USC football star, knew what to do: Fight on! He ran for a touchdown (i.e. no freeway).      

Frank and Frances Robinson – When they learned a marina was planned for the Upper Bay, they became the guiding spirits of the movement that stopped the marina and provided permanent protection for one of the last remaining estuaries in Southern California. 

Jack Keating – You always want someone to pick up the baton, and Keating was the gentle but firm hand continuing the efforts of the Robinsons, helping establish what would become the steward of the Upper Bay – the Newport Bay Conservancy.

Louise Greeley – She looked at all the poorly maintained open space along the Santa Ana River and imagined what it could be. Her vision led to the concept of Orange Coast River Park, and the efforts to improve recreation and restoration opportunities in the area. 

Fern Pirkle – Appalled at the initial plans for Newport Coast, she led a long fight to reduce the amount of housing planned for Newport Coast, succeeding not just in getting fewer houses built, but also in preserving open space for future generations.

Jan Van der Sloot – A passionate advocate for open space and the natural world, he was a major factor in the effort to upgrade sewage treatment at OCSD, was a founder of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and was an active member of the city’s General Plan Advisory Committee, where he fought to strengthen environmental policies.

Jack and Nancy Skinner – As a couple, they were relentless in identifying sources of pollution to the bay and then pursuing science-based solutions, an effort which Nancy continues today. 

Jean Watt – The grand dame of local environmentalism, Watt has founded  innumerable organizations and mentored several generations of environmental leaders. She could sit back and rest on her laurels, but is still very much involved in her favorite causes, most recently, Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter (FONBAS).

Terry Welsh – He believed in the preservation of Banning Ranch as open space when it seemed little more than a pipe dream. Never discouraged, he established the Banning Ranch Conservancy as the main vehicle for the preservation effort and continues to move forward with his vision.

Dennis Baker – It is the rare environmental effort that hasn’t benefited from his assistance. A stalwart of the city’s water quality committee, he has led various local environmental groups, participated in regional entities such as the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Group, leads kayak nature tours of the Upper Bay and somehow finds time to handle short features for the Newport Beach Film Festival. 

As for the hall itself, I suggest we go virtual. That would make it super “green” and avoid the problems of finding a site that doesn’t elicit some sort of NIMBY reaction. 


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, longtime resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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