Commentary

So Long to a Really Good Friend

9470774009_d3c2d7be68_oLast month, this world lost an amazing hero for our environment. For WildEarth Guardians and myself personally, we lost a great friend, a champion for our work, and a perennial source of inspiration and optimism.

Fred Cheever was a law professor at the University of Denver for 24 years and before that, he cut his teeth as a public interest environmental attorney. More importantly, though, he was a tireless advocate for the natural world, a dedicated teacher, an energetic idealist, and a fount of joy for all who crossed his path.

I first got to know Fred nearly 20 years ago when he was helping activists in Wyoming confront unsustainable old growth logging in the state’s fragile National Forests. One of his key wins was over a challenge to the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to ensure that clearcuts on the Bighorn National Forest would start growing back within five years. He also taught activists how to protect endangered species, use the law and science to scrutinize federal agencies, and temper unbridled passion with some hard-nosed pragmatism and a sense of humor to achieve maximum strategic success.

While many know him well for his distinguished academic career, the extensive impact he’s had on students and faculty over the years, and the overall contributions he made to the University of Denver community, what always struck me about Fred was his unwavering support and allegiance to those of us in the trenches. He always took the time to share his knowledge and wisdom to help those working to make the world, particularly the natural world, a better, safer, healthier, and happier place.

IMG_2379He always seemed to appreciate deeply and understand more than most professors that laws should achieve justice. And for people like me with no formal legal training, he empowered and challenged us to learn and wield the law to the fullest extent possible. While he certainly did not advocate practicing law without a license, he reminded us that laws are for people, not for lawyers.

For WildEarth Guardians, Fred was an exceptional advocate for the work we do. He was our foremost champion, trumpeting our successes and our uncompromising approach to saving the planet. He was a kindred spirit and Guardians could always count him on for praise, advice, and support. He was also the glue that’s helped Guardians and the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic maintain a successful years-long partnership in defending wildlife, clean air, and communities in the American West.

This past weekend, a memorial was held for Fred at the University of Denver. The words spoken by his family, friends, and colleagues all attested to the fact that absolutely everyone he crossed paths with will miss him dearly. Everyone will miss his smile and enthusiasm.

In his obituary, Fred’s family asked that donations be made in his name to WildEarth Guardians. I cannot tell you how unbelievably humbled and honored we are to continue to be the subject of Fred’s generosity and support. This was a surprise and we hope that as people may generously support our work, they also consider supporting the work of other public interest groups all working harder than ever to safeguard our planet.

Fred’s loss stings and stings badly. But in his passing, it’s our opportunity to rediscover the courage, confidence, and love that he shared with us all and that inspired us to be who we are today. In this moment of extreme crisis, we’re reminded that Fred prepared us well to be effective guardians of the natural world.

Thank you, Fred, for all you’ve given us over the years. So long, I’ll miss you a lot.