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Note On The Passing Of Tom Gilmore

Leadership And Values Matter – We Just Lost a Big Leader

Tom Gilmore speaks in Governor’s Office, when Corzine signed legislation establishing a moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs. (March 2008)

Tom Gilmore speaks in Governor’s Office, when Corzine signed legislation establishing a moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs. (March 2008)

[Update: 11/10/20 – Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club issued a very moving press release.  ~~~ end update]

Sadly, I just learned – ironically from the current CEO of NJ Audubon Eric Stiles – that former longtime head of NJ Audubon Tom Gilmore has died. (photo: March 25, 2008 post, originally published on my Star Ledger “NJ Voices” column).

I say “ironically” for a reason – because Tom and Mr. Stiles were very different people.

I did not know Tom very well personally.

When I first joined the NJ environmental community as a former DEP planner who was fired as a whistleblower back in 1994, Tom was a leader in the NJ conservation community.

I was told that he was a very progressive guy that the “Trenton radicals” in the pollution advocacy community could work with – facts you can’t read in current NJA CEO Eric Stiles’ self serving obituary I just read.

My brief encounters with Tom were very good and he was very supportive of me personally. There was not a lot of overlap in my professional environmental quality/pollution work and Tom’s conservation work at NJ Audubon.

Despite this, Tom went out of his way to welcome me into the community and to sympathize and understand my personal and professional challenges and support my integrity.

I particularly remember his support when I walked out of Mike “Ponzi Scheme” Catania’s State House meeting of the conservation community on Gov. Whitmans’s “million acre” open space initiative. Catania demanded that the meeting and his negotiations with the Gov. be kept secret.  Of course, as a matter of principle, I could not agree to that condition and left the meeting in protest. No one else joined. I think I said: “I’ll be damned – after being forced out of DEP for refusing to keep Whitman’s corrupt secrets – if I’ll keep this important public information secret“.  I then walked down the hall to brief the State House press corps. At the time, I was on very thin ice as temporary “Acting Director” of NJ Sierra Club (before Jeff Tittel’s tenure). Tom’s understanding and support, despite differences, was important.

Sadly, back in 1994, NJ Audubon was a very different organization than it is today.

Perhaps the best evidence of that is how, under Tom’s leadership, former NJ Audubon’s Director of Conservation – my good friend Bill Neil – was a fellow advocate and later chased out of NJA.

I worked closely with Bill Neil on the Hopewell Merrill Lynch, BMS, and ELSA sewer line land use battles. Tom supported Bill’s work.

In that battle, we very publicly:1) confronted corporate power, 2) criticized Republican Gov. Whitman, 3) highlighted DEP regulatory policy, 4) exposed the injustice of investing in a wealthy suburb like Hopewell instead of nearby Trenton (while exporting their water and consuming sewage capacity), and 5) built close relationships with aggressive local grassroots activists.

But no way NJ Audubon would engage in those kind of public activist political battles today.

Today, NJA does exactly the opposite: NJA: 1) collaborates with corporate power (“Corporate Stewardship Council”), 2) forms partnerships with Republican politicians (Trump), 3) takes billionaire money (Peter Kellogg), 4) engages in faux token EJ projects while protecting the backyards of their wealthy donors, 5) ignores or undermines DEP regulation, and 6) either fails to support and sometimes even attacks local grassroots groups (Sparta Mountain logging).

My former colleague and good friend Jeff Tittel, Director of NJ Sierra Club, wrote:

Tom was great environmentalist. Audubon was very different then. He started the battle to save the Highlands, save horseshoe crabs, red knots and so much more. Audubon in those days helped the grassroots in the battle to stop bad development. He came out and protested the Highlands Act signing because of fast tract and it cost him being on the Highlands Council. He always encouraged me forward. I received  NJAS Conservationist of the Year Award in 1993 from Tom.

The most important  point he clearly stated that environmental groups do not undermine groups that take a stronger position .

Tom was a good man.

I’m just saddened to hear this bad news.

I really hope that Tom’s media memorialization contrasts his work with what currently passes as leadership at NJ Audubon.

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