THE BLOG

America Loses a Groundbreaking Environmentalist

06/16/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Henry Miller Chief Operating Officer of Goodman Media International

With the death of Francis W. Hatch, Jr., 84, on April 8 in Boston, America lost a groundbreaking and tireless environmentalist who authored landmark legislation, led precedent-setting campaigns, and funded innovative initiatives that set the pace for environmental policy across the nation. I had the pleasure of knowing him for 50 years, and his achievements are a source of inspiration, a reason for optimism about the power of civic engagement, and a lasting benefit for us all.

Frank Hatch's environmental leadership first became prominent when, as a Republican member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, he authored the 1965 Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, commonly referred to in the state as the Hatch Act. It was the first wetlands protection act in the United States, according to Douglas Foy, former President of the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation.

With a record as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, Frank rose to become Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House and ultimately the Republican nominee for Governor in 1978. He lost that election by a narrow margin to Democrat Edward King, who had in turn defeated incumbent Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis in the primary. Dukakis recaptured the governorship four years later.

After leaving elected office, Frank Hatch became Chairman of the Conservation Law Foundation, where for more than a decade he championed and led nationally renowned, and often replicated, campaigns to protect the environment. Under his leadership, the Foundation successfully sued the state and federal governments to force the clean-up of Boston harbor, as well as the National Park Service to ban all-terrain vehicles from the beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

The Foundation also successfully took legal action to prevent offshore oil drilling in the Georges Bank, a crucial fishery off the New England coast, and to block construction of the proposed "Big A" dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. And, even before the environmental justice movement had taken shape, the Foundation led a three-year campaign that caused Massachusetts in 1988 to enact the nation's toughest law to protect children from lead poisoning.

From 1987 to 2006, Frank Hatch served as Chairman of The John Merck Fund, a foundation created by the family of his wife of 58 years, Serena Merck Hatch. During that period, the Fund became the earliest major funder of energy-efficiency advocacy in New England and the largest funder nationally of advocacy to better understand, and reduce, the environmental impacts of genetic engineering in food and agriculture.

In the mid-1990s, the Fund was instrumental in a six-state initiative to clean up the 15 coal-fired power plants in New England. The resulting campaign cleaned up soot, haze, and mercury from the plants and has since been replicated across the country. The emissions standards that the New England states subsequently adopted for coal-fired power plants became a model that was enacted in the Midwest, where the greatest number of coal-fired plants exists.

Frank later co-chaired a campaign to preserve the Pingree Woods in northern Maine - a campaign that raised $28 million to preserve 700,000 acres of forest. And, as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Natural Resources Defense Council, he was instrumental in getting NRDC to join with the Maine People's Alliance to file a successful and precedent-setting suit against HoltraChem to clean up mercury dumped into the Penobscot River. The case addressed the largest waterborne mercury contamination in the nation.

Born in Cambridge and educated at Harvard College, Frank Hatch was a life-long resident of Massachusetts, except for service in the Navy during World War II and a first job after the war as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. His family had longstanding ties to Maine - especially to the town of Castine, on the banks of the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay - as well as to Vermont. He cherished the woods and coast of Maine, the small-farm landscape of Vermont, and the people of the region whose lives are most closely tied to the landscape. His passion for those places and people never tired, nor did his responsibility to stewardship. He was still actively engaged in philanthropic initiatives until a few days before he died.

Frank's environmental advocacy dovetailed with other longstanding philanthropic commitments to healthcare improvement, developmental disabilities, and job-generation consistent with environmental protection. He was also a life-long supporter of the arts, having served as Chairman of the Board of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (and a Trustee for 47 years), as Chairman of the New England Conservatory of Music, and as a Trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Gardner Museum grants free admission every New Year's Day in his honor.

Frank's enthusiasm for tackling challenges was combined with an infectious sense of humor and a joy in the quest that attracted colleagues, regardless of political affiliation, and invariably converted them into friends of longstanding. His extraordinary capacity for friendship had much to do with the extent of his impact.

Frank is survived by his wife, two daughters, Serena Whitridge of Stanfordville, NY, and Olivia Farr of Bedford Hills, NY, and three sons, Tim Allison-Hatch of Sonoma, CA (from a previous marriage to Augustine Shaw), Whitney Hatch of Ipswich, MA, and George Hatch of Wenham, MA, and 14 grandchildren.

Frank Hatch led an extraordinary life of civic engagement, public service, and commitment: to the environment, to other societal needs, to the communities of which he was a part, and to his family. His legacy is one to be cherished and celebrated for its lasting impact and as a model of citizen activism and responsible philanthropy.

Henry L. Miller is Chief Operating Officer of Goodman Media International, the New York City-based public relations firm, and knew Frank Hatch from Castine, Maine, and from numerous collaborations on policy issues.

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