Grist reader Ed Brown attended today’s memorial service for Gaylord Nelson and sent this short report. (Thanks Ed.)


Gaylord Nelson was on Richard Nixon’s "enemies list." When asked why, Nelson is said to have replied, "I’m not sure — but it’s possible he heard me trying to play the trumpet in the Clear Lake (Wisconsin) high school band."

Bill Meadows of the Wilderness Society introduced a memorial service for Senator Gaylord Nelson with that story, this afternoon in the state capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis., noting that the same Clear Lake band had just played a prelude, with a very good trumpet player. This peculiar mixture of national politics and small town minutiae, political power and personal grace, captures the character of the man: former governor and senator from Wisconsin, but best known as the father of Earth Day.

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Reminiscences from the speakers were impressive. Melvin Laird, secretary of defense during the Vietnam era, former VP Walter Mondale, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, and Nelson’s daughter Tia, now a conservationist and political force in her own right, showed us a man who was great because he was gracious — who led the nation not only in the environmental movement but in civil rights and family legislation as well. But what most impressed me, an ordinary member of the public, was the people with whom I was sitting . Some had met Gaylord — no one called him "Senator" or "Governor" — some had not. But all had been influenced to care more for the earth — and do more about environmental problems — because of this great and gracious man.

And it occurred to me that the secret of his life and his success was this: He could move in the halls of power, but he could do so in a way that moved ordinary people to come along with him. And that was how he got things done. May we find another leader, or two or three, like him.

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Lord knows, the work isn’t done.

–Ed Brown