Glenn Switkes: Mourning the Loss of a Passionate Fighter for the Rivers

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We mourn the loss of a dear friend and passionate fighter for the rivers. Glenn Switkes, the Amazon Director of International Rivers, died of lung cancer in Sao Paulo on December 21.

Glenn was a force of nature. He loved the good things in his life - his family and friends, his guitar, an adventurous river trip, a good story and a few beers after work. He responded to the bureaucratic needs of a growing organization with mellow neglect and a twinkle in his eyes. But he stood up for the beauty of rivers and the rights of their people with a fighting spirit and unbreakable passion.

Glenn was an effective thorn in the side of politicians and bureaucrats trying to push through more than 100 dams in the Amazon Basin with no respect for the environment and the Amazonian people. He gave generous support and inspiration to river activists throughout Latin America and the world.

Glenn Switkes grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, and remained a passionate Yankees fan throughout his life. He got a journalism degree at UC Berkeley, and soon became an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Glenn coordinated Rainforest Action Network's Western Amazon oil campaign, and joined International Rivers in 1994. Soon after, he opened our first satellite office in Brazil, where he was instrumental in defeating the destructive Hidrovia project. In recent years, Glenn helped coordinate a growing network of NGOs and social movements against the damming of the Amazon and its tributaries.

Suffering from severe back pain and headaches, Glenn was admitted to a hospital in Sao Paulo in early December, and was soon after diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. A network of family members and friends accompanied him on his final journey with strong support and loving care. Our colleagues Patrick McCully and Monti Aguirre were honored to join him in the last few days. Glenn is survived by his strong and beautiful wife Selma, and his son Gabriel.

Glenn was the soul of International Rivers. He leaves a gaping hole in the international movement of rivers activists. We will miss his cheerful songs when he visited our office, his irreverent humor in a difficult meeting, his boundless energy, his infectious and tumultuous personality. We will honor and celebrate his life with renewed fighting spirit for the rivers - and a good party.

Like Selma and Gabriel, we deeply appreciate the love and support which we have received from Glenn's many friends around the world. We will inform about plans to honor Glenn's life soon.