Billy Frank Jr. was a community leader and vocal advocate for salmon recovery.
Photo Liz Devine, courtesy of Ecotrust

Billy Frank Jr.

Billy Frank Jr. was a timeless story teller, a great communicator. As even the staid Seattle Times noted, he did not shy from using a four letter word to make a point. One four letter word that he may not have used, at least about himself, was hero.

Billy was the genuine article, a hero. Talk with our Native American leaders and they have lost a beacon. Talk with anyone concerned about the health of our salmon runs or the future of our planet and they echo the loss.

I do not use the term lightly. In fact I have never before used it to describe someone I knew personally. Ever. Billy did not start out the beloved icon of the Northwest. Arrested 50 times and beat up simply because he expected our government to live by a treaty with his people and let him fish his Nisqually.

Undeterred by jail time and media criticism, he finally prevailed. And then turning outwards, he became a moral leader of the NW and for the environment. He became the big hearted teacher of us all. That’s a hero.

 

Billy Frank Jr., lifetime achievement, sustainability, salmon recovery
Billy Frank Jr. accepting the Frank Pritchard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008

I was lucky enough to be there several times over the last few decades when Billy knit people, perspectives and places together. One started off manufactured and became genuine because of his presence. Billy, Mark Doumit, head of Washington Forest Protection Association, and I were streamside on the Olympic Peninsula for the making of a video.

It was raining like it can only on the Peninsula – we should have quit the video and instead start building an Ark. With cameras rolling the conversation started off stilted, off-measure. As the rain streaked our ridiculous pancake makeup and matted our hair – Mark’s short, mine ragged and Billy’s waist length – Billy led us into an honest exchange with deep regard for each other. The cameras no longer concerned us. Three friends passing time in a wet Northwest forest learning from each other’s life experience. I am immensely thankful for that day.

Billy had that same ephemeral quality of a Martin Luther King, or Caesar Chavez. They turn society around – correct it – and then embrace it and help it progress. They take all that was thrown at them and build a foundation for their mind-boggling generosity and humanity. It is why the changes they dedicate their lives to finally take root and sustain.

Thank you Billy, for the hero you became. We hope your spirit flows with equanimity alongside your beloved Nisqually.

  • Gene Duvernoy

    Gene Duvernoy is President of Forterra. He’s spent more than 30 years working on land conservation and building community, founding Forterra in 1989 in his attic. Since then he’s led the organization to national prominence by creating bold, innovative and successful programs that improve the quality of life for all residents.
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