Friday, November 18, 2011

Larry Hamilton

I met Professor Lawrence S. Hamilton at an Occupy Burlington rally in October.  Larry, along with his wife Linda, joined the Peace Committee that was formed that afternoon.  My sister and I were also in that group as we knew our dad would join Larry as a Veteran for Peace, if he was with us.  I thought Larry would make a great subject for this blog and I was right.  But where to begin?

Larry was born in Toronto in 1925.  That's right, he's 86 and gets more done in a day that a lot of us.  He told me he couldn't wait to get out of the city, ANY city, and started working in logging camps in the North Woods during the summers while he was still a teenager.  During his forestry career, he worked on one of the last log drives on a river in Northern Ontario, working on a logging crew, in a sawmill, cruising timber in the far north.

Larry joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and served in WWII until 1945.  After the war and deciding he always wanted to work outdoors, Larry went to The University of Toronto and worked while earning a Masters Degree from Syracuse College of Forestry (NY), then received his PhD from the University of Michigan in Natural Resource Policy.  He started teaching at Cornell in 1951 and became Professor Emeritus after 30 years.

Larry's passion for international conservation prompted him to join the East West Center in Hawaii, an institution whose mission is to promote technological and cultural interchange between people in the United States, Asia and the Pacific region.  He traveled all over the region, in Thailand, Western Samoa, Nepal, Indonesia, Australia and other areas doing pioneering education in forest hydrology and tropical forestry.  While in Asia, Larry says he began to get interested in mountains and concluded that much of what we 'know' about mountains is essentially wrong.  They are a unique and very delicate ecosystem and conservation efforts that will work in many other environments can be devastating for mountains.

Larry and a small group of five scientist/educators launched a concerted drive under the banner of "An Appeal for the Mountains" to spotlight to spotlight the neglect of mountain-specific conservation efforts.  Together the group published The State of the World's Mountains: A Global Report and were able to add a Mountain Agenda to  the "Earth Summit", the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  This effort and the  ensuing awareness of mountain ecology is the work of which Larry says he is most proud.

In 1993 Larry and Linda moved to Charlotte, Vermont to be near family and because they love the natural surroundings and the four seasons.  They also like the size and neighborliness, noting that individual people's voices can be heard in public forums and state government.  Linda served as Conservation Commissioner for 13 years and Larry is a Town Tree Warden, most recently leading a roadside tree restoration project that has planted some 435 trees along Charlotte's byways.

In 2004 Larry received the Gold Medal from the King Albert I Memorial Foundation in Switzerland which is conferred occasionally "on persons or institutions that have distinguished themselves in some way in the mountain world."   He was also recognized as "the father of cloud forest conservation" with a distinguished science award from the University of Hawaii.  He also writes the quarterly mountain newsletter of the World Commission on Protected Areas.

Larry said he believes humans have genetic biophilia - an innate affinity for nature and its healing properties, evident in the dramatic effects of nature therapy in hospital patients, prison inmates, kids with ADHD, etc.  We've had 40,000 years of being IN nature and we can't just separate ourselves from it.  As Larry says, "If I can be responsible for saving one little chunk, I will have had a successful life."

I guess I would say he has achieved that meaningful, successful life.  I caught up with him a few days before he headed to Washington, DC by train to encircle the White House to encourage President Obama to quash the Tar Sands Pipeline Initiative.  Larry and Linda are inspiring examples of what people can do in "retirement".

Update: The Burlington Free Press did an interesting article about Larry on January 5, 2012.  Here's the link.

1 comment:

  1. My name is Fred L. Johnson and I was priviledged to have Larry Hamilton as a mentor in my early years (1950's) and as a colleague later on. I always admired your dedication to your profession and wisdom. Larry, your rise to the highest ranks of professionall application comes as no surprise.
    Congratulations. I have been retired for thirty years but still am a member of the SAF and for the last ten years have been chiding the Forest Service for their failure to thin second growth ponderso pine forests in the Flagstaff area of Arizona. My interest is still active. Also I am out in the forest at least twice a week, hiking. The Forest Service is more active with thinning now, and it pains me to admit that President Bush started the operation about five years ago. Lastly, but nost least, Nan is still with me gracing 64 years of happy marriage. I am a lucky man.I hope you remember me. Sincerely, Fred.