Hall of Conservation Heroes
John Van de Kamp, 1936-2017
Former California Attorney General and Long Time PCL Leader
John Van de Kamp unexpectedly died on March 8 at the age of 81. John was a long time PCL Board Member, Past President of the Board, and a current PCLF Board Member. His judgment and generosity will be greatly missed.
Growing up in Pasadena and Altadena, John relished the open spaces, mountains, and streams. It was there that he developed his passion for protecting the natural world.
John had a long and illustrious legal career. He graduated from Stanford Law School, where he took a class from future fellow PCL Board member, Byron Sher. He worked in the United States Attorneys’ Office and was the first Federal Public Defender in Los Angeles. John was later appointed as L.A. District Attorney and elected as California Attorney General in 1986.
John has been repeatedly recognized for the many innovations he brought to the A.G.’s office and law enforcement. But what many PCL members especially appreciated was the rigorous enforcement of environmental laws by the Attorney General under John’s leadership.
After the A.G.’s office, and unsuccessfully running for Governor (many say he was too principled), John entered private practice but continued his public service in a myriad of ways.
Upon his death, the LA Times and New York Times recognized that John was a towering figure in California law. Current Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who worked at the A.G.s office during John’s tenure, said “John Van de Kamp lived for the values of justice and opportunity that define the State of California. . . John understood the higher calling of public service. He performed for the people of California like few others.” Gov. Jerry Brown said Van de Kamp “was a wonderful public servant and had a real sense of justice.” According to Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, John “exemplified all that is best about public service. He was a determined advocate but always gracious and thoughtful. John represented a golden era of politics when the public’s interest was always the priority over partisan gain.” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer called John “An extraordinary leader of impeccable integrity . . . never backed away from taking strong, principled stands on tough issues. John was supremely effective at everything he did — always with a quiet confidence and devotion to public service that inspired generations of lawyers.”
What many PCL members may not know about John was that he had a great baritone voice and a keen sense of humor. He was also a huge sports fan, especially for the Oakland A’s. Several hundred people who knew, respected, and admired John attended the funeral mass at the St. Andrew Catholic Church in Pasadena on March 30, where he was an active member. The two-hour service was filled with beautiful music—which John would have loved—and the praises of many speakers, both famous and intimate friends.
John is survived by his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Diana, both of whom he adored.
William (“Bill”) Evers, 1927-2017
In response to Bill’s passing, his family offered the following perfect quote from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendall Holmes:
“It is required of a man that he should take part in the action and passion of his time,
at the peril of being judged not to have lived.”
Bill was quintessentially a man of action and passion.
In 1949 he graduated from Yale University where among other activities he rowed crew. He then obtained his J.D. Degree from U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) in 1952. He held a number of legal positions but spent the majority of his “lawyer” career with Pettit, Evers, and Martin, where under his leadership, the firm grew from 7 to 70 lawyers.
Bill left that firm in 1978 and became head of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic Development under both Mayors George Moscone and Dianne Feinstein. As stated by his family,
“Bill was very proud of his deep involvement with civic and environmental organizations.”
These included founding the League to Save Lake Tahoe (1957) and the Planning and Conservation League (1965). He was instrumental in the founding of the Green Belt Alliance and served as President of SPUR (the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association) in 1977. He was on the board of the Yosemite Institute (Now Nature Bridge) and served on the council of the Wilderness Society for 12 years. Bill also was Vice Chair and then Chair of the S.F. Bay Conservation and Development Commission for eight years.
He was the recipient of a number of awards over the years, and remarkably with all of his actions over the years he was fundamentally a devoted family man. As stated by a family member:
“Bill adored his family and always found time for them.”
In connection with PCL’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco in November 2016, Bill was a featured interviewee in a new documentary film about the history and future of PCL. The PCL Board of Directors was proud to recognize him at that event as a Founder of PCL, along with Co-Founder, Helen Baker Reynolds.
Bill, like John Van de Kamp and Bill Center, was a man of great integrity. One of his favorite sayings:
“Intelligence, industry, and integrity are the essentials for a successful life, and of these, integrity is the most important.”
Thanks Bill for a job well done and a life well lived. And special thanks for starting PCL!
Bill Center, 1949-2017
Bill Center had a passion for rivers and the Sierra Nevadas all of his life. He attended Stanford for two years but dropped out to lead river rafting trips. He co-founded Friends of the River to fight the New Melones Dam and while FOR lost that fight, they went on to win wilderness protection for hundreds of miles of rivers in California.
Eventually, Bill and his wife Robin moved to El Dorado County and settled near Coloma, the original California gold discovery site, on the South Fork of the American River. Eventually, they bought a camp that became widely used by river rafters — Camp Lotus.
When sprawl threatened the beauty of the foothills of El Dorado County, Bill successfully ran for County Supervisor. He lead a platform of planned growth but was unseated after the County sustained major job losses from cuts in the timber industry and slower growth. That, however, was not the end of Bill’s political career. He lead a successful effort to enshrine planned growth policies in a County initiative and earned the respect of conservatives and liberals alike by working to find compromises when the measure’s life expired.
After these political activities, Bill dedicated himself to work to preserve the Sierras through the Sierra Nevada Alliance and the Planning and Conservation League. Bill was Secretary-Treasurer of PCL at the time of his death. He spoke softly, but always thoughtfully, and with wisdom and patience. He was greatly admired by members of the PCL Board.
The loss of Bill, coming after the death of longtime Board member and former Attorney General, John Van de Kamp, hits PCL hard. Fortunately, Bill and his wife Robin hosted a PCL Board and staff Retreat at Camp Lotus in May of this year, before Bill was diagnosed with stomach cancer. For those of us who were lucky enough to attend, it was a very special weekend. Bill and Robin were the perfect hosts. The campfire at night was a place for guitar playing and singing old songs, with Bill’s baritone voice ringing loud and clear. On Sunday, Bill and PCL’s Executive Director, another fellow long-time river runner, took us down part of the American River and then Bill took us on a tour of the beautiful property that he and Robin own, overlooking his beloved river.
Bill was 68. He is survived by his wife, Robin; daughter, Rebecca; and son, Charlie, who is a world-class kayaker. Robin and Charlie will carry on running Camp Lotus on the river Bill so dearly loved.
We have been active for more than fifty years, winning major successes that protect California’s environment and communities. Read details in the Historic Timeline of PCL and the PCL Foundation.