Tribute to Bill Brown - A Strong Watershed Voice Remembered

(Editor's note: Cheryl Bradley has sent in a moving tribute to Bill Brown, who was one of the pioneers of the OWC and the pre-OWC entities. A donation to the OWC's film project has been in his name. Thank you, Cheryl - and thank you Bill - for all you do to make our watershed a good place to live, work and play.)

Tribute to Bill Brown (1926-2014)
By Cheryl Bradley

Photo kindly provided by Bill's daughter, Fiona

Bill Brown, an active member of SAGE for over a quarter of a century, passed away on September 7, 2014 at the age of 87 years.  He will be greatly missed. 

Bill helped to direct the work of SAGE as Board member for twelve years (1994-2006) including holding the position of Chair (1994-1997) and Secretary (2004-2006).  His volunteer efforts also benefited other local environmental organizations, including the Lethbridge Naturalists Society, Lethbridge Fish & Game Association, Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition and Southern Alberta Community of Environmental Educators. 

Even in the last few years as his health was failing, Bill continued to follow environmental issues in our community, to advocate for environmental protection, and to mentor a new generation of environmental activists and nature appreciators.

Nature was an interest and passion for Bill beginning with his childhood as son of a gamekeeper on an estate in Scotland. He studied botany and horticulture at both the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and the Birmingham Botanic Garden, interrupted by a stint in the navy near the end of the Second World War.  In 1957, Bill immigrated to Canada to work for City of Edmonton Parks and in 1961 moved to Lethbridge to become the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation.  He remained in that position until 1987.

Bill’s foresight established the framework for the amazing network of parks and green spaces our community enjoys today and advanced environmental literacy in Lethbridge.  During his 26 years working with the City of Lethbridge, Bill oversaw development of the Helen Schuler Coulee Centre and designation of several urban river valley parks. He was instrumental in drafting the City’s River Valley Redevelopment Plan, which set a tone towards protecting the river valley environment from major developments. 

Following his retirement from civil service, Bill’s strong and impassioned voice for nature was heard often in our community. Putting his Toastmaster skills to good use, he served as Master of Ceremonies for several environmental events in Lethbridge and gave numerous presentations on environmental topics.  

Bill spoke at public hearings regarding Lethbridge parkland, environmental impacts of the Oldman River Dam, forest management planning in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, and expansion of ski hills in national parks.  He developed briefs for SAGE on matters such as provincial water policy, national parks policy, integrating environment and economy in municipal planning, promoting development of wind power, and reducing use of pesticides. 

Bill worked on committees with a mandate to re-design the entrance to the Liz Hall Wetlands, plan a bridge bicycle trail across the Oldman River, mitigate adverse impacts of the Oldman River Dam, and expand a network of protected areas in the prairies of southern Alberta.  For four years he represented SAGE on the Board of Alberta Ecotrust, a role that allowed him input on decisions about funding environmental projects throughout the province.

Bill’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In 1997 he received the Lethbridge Urban Wildlife Steward Award, recognizing his work towards protecting wildlife and its habitat in the City of Lethbridge.  In 2008, friends and colleagues nominated him for an Emerald Award for his lifetime commitment as a friend and advocate of the environment.

My conversations with Bill in the later years of his life revealed an abiding love and enthusiasm for nature, pride in his accomplishments and that of his protégés, and profound disappointment that leadership is lacking at all levels of government with regard to environmental stewardship. 

Bill had a special twinkle in his eye remembering his work with the “ABC Team”. Together with Tom Atkinson and Sylvia Campbell he drew on his knowledge of public policy and mobilized the community to successfully challenge development of a motel and expansion of a golf course in urban parkland. The city council of the day was surprised by the strong reminder of the community’s commitment to parks and the need to consult on matters affecting public parkland.

With Bill’s passing SAGE loses a staunch supporter and nature loses a strong advocate.  SAGE, and our community, have benefited greatly from Bill’s work and his love of our watershed.