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Farewell, Rudy

Posted on Nov 25, 2017

Yesterday was the memorial service for the phenomenal (and little-known) environmentalist, philanthropist and activist, Rudy Haase, who was also my friend. I was privileged to speak at the event. This is what I said. 

Rudy Haase

It’s a great honour to play a role in celebrating the remarkable life of Rudy Haase — and Mickie — and I’m not only honoured, but also humbled.

I do, however, wish to register a complaint. This assignment came with a mandate letter from Syd Dumaresq that said, more or less, we’d like you to talk about Rudy’s accomplishments in sailing and boatbuilding, writing and publishing, and social justice. (LONG PAUSE) You have four minutes.

Okay, nothing about Rudy’s passion for music, his pioneering environmentalism, his philanthropy. But we can talk about his passion for sailing, which was already in evidence when he was 19 and a student at Black Mountain College. His physics instructor wanted to go sailing on nearby Lake Eden, and Rudy took him out. The instructor’s name was Albert Einstein. Rudy went on to study naval architecture and to become an officer in the US Navy in World War II, where he served with John F. Kennedy. When he and his family moved to Canada in 1967 in protest against the Vietnam War, he bought the Barkhouse boatyard in East Chester, which built a vessel a year for 20 years, with Rudy himself doing much of the finishing and all of the rigging.

At the heart of Rudy’s sailing life was Diablesse, the unique main trysail ketch which he and his beloved Mickie bought for a honeymoon cruise, and on which they celebrated their golden anniversary 50 years later. Their voyages in her included two trips south to the Bahamas.

The boat was designed and built by Frits Fenger, who wrote a book called The Cruise of the Diablesse about her earlier voyages in the Caribbean. The book was published by Wellington Books of Belmont, Massachusetts. And who was Wellington Books? Rudy Haase, wearing another hat. One of the titles he and Micki published, Gardening without Poisons, by Beatrice Trum Hunter, sold 50,000 copies. It influenced Rachel Carson — who they knew — in writing Silent Spring.

The Haases’ writing, publishing and educational work continued when they moved to Canada, founding the Chester Educational Foundation, the Chester Day School and Library, and quietly contributing enough money to ensure that the town’s new school had an adequate library.

In the end, environmentalism is inextricably intertwined with social justice, which is why Syd’s letter links the two so closely. I believe that Rudy’s profound understanding of the linkage between environmental devastation and social injustice provided his compass in navigating the choppy waters of politics and war. A fierce sense of justice animated him right to the very last of his innumerable letters to the editor last summer, in which he defended the federal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr.

I want to end with a story that’s outside my mandate letter. In 2012, my colleagues and I at The Green Interview learned that more that 180 nations recognize in their legal systems the rights of their citizens to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat healthy food. In those countries, citizens can and do defend the natural world in the courts — and they often win remarkable victories. But the handful of nations that do not recognize those rights includes Canada and the United States.

We believed that Canadians should know what they were missing, and we decided to create a multi-media project that would tell success stories from all over the world. The capstone of the project would be a feature film. Someone suggested I tell Rudy about it. At the end of a delightful afternoon at his farm, Rudy enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and made a contribution that gave the project a momentum it never lost. He remained among its most ardent supporters right up until his final illness.

We finished the Green Rights project in 2016 — three films, 30 Green Interviews and a book — and the feature film has now been screened in scores of communities across the continent, from here to Oregon. I showed it last Tuesday night in Sydney, NS and people in the audience told me — as they always do — that the film had inspired them, motivated them and given them hope.

And I thought — as I always do — that although they don’t know it, those people have received a gift from a group of deeply caring citizens led by Rudy Haase. (Footnote: At least three other donors were in attendance at the memorial service.)

This was a man — and a woman — who loved life: the land and the sea and the skies, the living beings who share our world, the creative spirit that flows through art and music and boatbuilding and that animates our lives together. That spirit is immeasurably stronger for the contributions of Rudy and Mickie. May their example inspire us to leave a similar legacy when we pass from the stage.

Thank you. Merci. Welalioq.

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