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Meridian Institute

A Celebration of Bill Ruckelshaus's Tenure as Board Chair

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On Thursday, September 17, following the annual Board of Directors meeting, Meridian opened its doors to present its new state-of-the-art DC office. Over 100 friends and colleagues gathered to reconnect and celebrate, and to commemorate the chairmanship of Bill Ruckelshaus. Among those joining the Meridian Board and staff were some current and former government officials with whom Meridian has worked closely over the years:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Kathryn Sullivan; Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell; Congressman Denny Heck (WA); former Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and many colleagues and staff.  
 
Aside from admiring the new office with requisite "Ooos" and "Ahhs", guests and colleagues also gathered to acknowledge Meridian's long-standing Board member and Chair, Bill Ruckelshaus. After 18 years of providing stalwart leadership, Bill is retiring from his Chair position, but will continue to serve as a Board member for another three years. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse provided remarks about Bill Ruckelshaus’s career in public service, which included being the first appointed Administrator for the EPA; serving as Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); and then serving as Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. In particular, Senator Whitehouse highlighted Bill's incredible integrity in the wake of the Saturday Night Massacre during the Nixon Administration's Watergate scandal. When Bill was asked by President Nixon to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, Bill and his boss, Elliott Richardson, chose to resign rather than to carry out President Nixon’s order. It was a pivotal moment for the country.
 
Secretary Sally Jewell provided anecdotes about Bill’s early career, and spoke to Bill’s influence on her own career trajectory, observing that Bill was instrumental in her securing her appointment as Secretary.  She noted that Bill established the EPA as an agency that relies on sound analysis, science and transparency, and instilled a sense of integrity that prevails today.  Additionally, Secretary Jewell said that Bill has been a model of public service and has inspired generations.  
 
Bill Ruckelshaus quipped that he was stepping down as Board Chair for health reasons:  After 18 years everyone was sick of him.  The key to getting older, he said, is to set your goals low:  He is now 83 and his goal is to make it to 84. Bill lauded Meridian as a place where problems actually get solved. Meridian Institute does not just wring its hands about gridlock in Congress and the shortcomings of the Administration.  It does not just stand on the shoreline as the ship of state passes by, Meridian gets in the boat and rows. New Meridian Board Chair Jeff Sterba was moved by the comments and remarked on how humbled he is to inherit the Board Chairmanship from Bill.  Jeff commended Bill for his many years of service to Meridian and noted that we are not letting him get away just yet, referring to Bill continuing on the Board.
 
David Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also chimed in to recognize Bill's two-tenure service at the EPA. Bill served as the first head of the EPA, and in this role, laid the EPA's foundation by selecting its leadership, defining its mission, deciding priorities, and determining organizational structure. One of Bill's first landmark decisions as EPA Administrator was to issue a ban on DDT, an agricultural pesticide (discussed in the book Silent Spring) that had been shown to cause cancer and threaten wildlife.  Bill remarked that as Administrator he was influenced in large measure by David’s deep understanding and analysis of air pollution issues.
 
As a token of Meridian's appreciation for Bill's many years of service, he was presented with a gift of hand-blown, solar-powered glass bulbs for lighting his famous home garden in Seattle. Bill has been a guidestar for Meridian since before its inception, and has given selflessly to help staff and fellow board members mold its mission.  His leadership has been and remains invaluable.