Richard Weinstein: A Conservancy Hero

Canoe on St. Mary's River, Florida

Dick Weinstein, former Chair of The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Directors and of the Florida Chapter Board of Trustees, died last week.

His remarkable life stands in marked contrast to the contentious and superficial world I see here in Washington in my work as the Conservancy’s Director of U.S. Government Relations. Today’s politicians could learn much about how to leave a meaningful legacy for future generations of Americans by studying Dick Weinstein’s approach to getting things done.

Richard Weinstein served on the Conservancy’s National Board from the early 1970s for 20 years and as its Chair from 1990 to 1992. This was a time when the Conservancy was growing and changing rapidly and when it was pioneering new techniques and ideas for accomplishing land conservation at a large scale. There were plenty of opportunities for mistakes, but Dick’s guidance played a key role in establishing the values of integrity, balance and focus on tangible accomplishments that still characterize this organization.

Dick also served on the Florida Chapter Board for 28 years including time as Trustee Chair. Among so many other things, he provided support and leadership in the creation of Preservation 2000 and its successor, Florida Forever — the largest-in-the-nation conservation financing programs which led to the acquisition of more than 1.3 million acres of natural Florida. When I served as Florida Chapter Director and, later, as Southern Regional Director of the Conservancy, I had the privilege of working closely with Dick and relied on him particularly to solve the most difficult problems and conflicts.

Dick’s guidance and good counsel to the Conservancy were characterized by:

  • An eye on the long term, on what was lasting and important
  • The highest ethical standards
  • A belief that disputes among people and interests could be resolved by reason and mediation leading to a better result because people of different initial views ultimately worked together
  • A fundamental optimism that with effort and good will, things would come out well in the end
  • An abiding love for the Conservancy’s mission, for saving places from destruction that will have benefits for people

He was, for all this, recognized as one of the Conservancy’s heroes at the time of our 50th Anniversary and was a proud recipient of the Oak Leaf Award.

Dick’s personal and professional life as a lawyer mirrored his volunteer work for the Conservancy. He was unfailingly loving and supportive of his wife, Pearl, and of his children and grandchildren. He was respected and successful as a legal mediator.

Were there only more Dick Weinstein’s in Washington today our country would be in a different place — people working together, not in some naïve, let’s-all-get-along manner, but by examining the roots of our differences, the potential of our mutual success, and arriving at lasting, ethical ways of doing what’s best for people today and their children tomorrow.

I remember, once, at a Florida Chapter Board meeting, walking in the evening with Dick along a trail through a beautiful lake swamp. The last of the sun illuminated the cypress and night birds were just beginning to call. “It is a beautiful world,” Dick said.

More so, now and forever, because of Dick Weinstein.

[Image: Canoe on St. Mary's River, Florida]

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