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October 17, 2012

A Final Tribute to Larry Gibson

This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at Larry Gibson's memorial service in Charleston, West Virginia. It was a beautiful service filled with hundreds of people who loved and were inspired by Larry, a long-time fighter of mountaintop-removal coal mining and lover of mountains.

The Charleston Gazette put together this wonderful video tribute to Larry with highlights from Sunday's service.

 

And here's my speech from Larry's celebration:

My name is Mary Anne Hitt. I live in Shepherstown, West Virginia, with my family -- this is my daughter Hazel. I’m the director of the Beyond Coal Campaign at the Sierra Club, and I knew Larry through my work over the past decade to end mountaintop removal and move America beyond coal, to clean energy.

One of my great friends and mentors, Lenny Kohm of Appalachian Voices, once gave me this advice -- when you start a new campaign, one of the first things you should do is plan the victory party. You’re in it to win, and you need to act like it from the beginning.


I have to tell you -- I always imagined when we won the fight to end mountaintop removal, I always assumed that Larry Gibson would be at our victory party. I never imagined that Larry would die before we finished the job.

I still can’t quite believe it -- I keep expecting to see his fluorescent green shirt somewhere in this crowd, or at the next rally, or striding down the halls of one of our capitol buildings. Don’t you?

Maybe I feel that way because, in some ways, Larry is here tonight, and will never leave us. Every single person here, and the hundreds more who couldn’t be here in person, are carrying inside of us Larry’s passion and determination, his kindness and warmth, and his bright spirit. Larry always had a gleam in his eye, and as I look around this room, I see that same gleam in the eye of many of you.

I have the great privilege now of working on coal issues across the US, and as I was thinking about Larry’s legacy, I realized that he may have singlehandedly brought more people into this movement than any other person I’ve ever known. If you ever stood at the edge of Kayford Mountain with Larry, if you ever heard him speak, if you ever stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him at a rally or protest, your life was never the same.

Larry also had a big influence on the Sierra Club -- his presentations to our board of directors and staff over the years are one of the main reasons the Sierra Club made mountaintop removal a national priority. He also had a profound influence on many of our volunteers and staff, including two of our national leaders who are here today to pay their respects – our national field director Bob Bingaman and our national environmental justice director Leslie Fields.

Finally, Larry meant so much to me. He was a north star. When the going got tough -- and we all know that the going gets tough in this movement – he was always there with a word of encouragement, a hug, a joke. When the path to victory seemed blocked by a giant boulder, Larry would roll up his sleeves and find a way around it. And when the energy of veteran activists sometimes flagged, Larry kept bringing in new people, new ideas, and new passion to our movement.

I miss Larry every day. I don’t think anything will ever fill the hole he has left in my heart. But I do think that, when we finally have our victory party, and in all the days leading up to it, Larry will be there in spirit, carried in the hearts and souls of thousands of us who are going to keep working, every day, to end mountaintop removal, bring healing to  Appalachia, and power this nation with clean energy.

My daughter Hazel is an 11th generation West Virginian, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of legacy we are leaving her. She met Larry this summer, and while she was too little to remember it, someday I hope to explain to her that she met a truly great American, that her mama had the rare privilege of working with a real-life hero to save some mountains and streams for her, and that as a result, her own children -- 12th generation West Virginians -- will still have a chance of building their own life right here in the Mountain State.

May we all channel our grief, sadness, and despair at losing Larry to breathe new life into the fight to end mountaintop removal. I can think of no finer to tribute to Larry Gibson. I’ll see you at the victory party.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

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