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A Remarkable Legacy—Meridian Institute Celebrates the Life of Bill Ruckelshaus

3 December 2019

By John Ehrmann, Meridian Institute

The Meridian Institute family deeply felt the loss of our founding Board chairman Bill Ruckelshaus this past week. He richly deserves the many tributes recalling his heroic role in Watergate and his historic tenures under two Presidents as Administrator of the EPA. Our bond with Bill, however, is anchored in a dimension of his life that is less known publicly—his steadfast and passionate belief in the power of collaborative decision making, which is at the heart of Meridian’s mission.

Bill had great respect for the power and authority of our three branches of our government and what can happen when civility and mutual respect erode within and between them. This realization fueled his understanding that democracy itself is grounded in and enriched by the capacity of people from disparate backgrounds and with diverse views to engage in constructive problem-solving, based on respect and fed by the best possible science and information. He grew to be a passionate advocate and articulate spokesperson for collaboration. Bill had unshakable faith in the role that well-designed and managed multi-stakeholder collaboration can play in building trust and developing creative and implementable solutions to intractable problems.

Bill put these beliefs into action when he agreed to be the founding Board Chair of Meridian in 1997. His steadfast leadership of our Board for over 16 years lent Meridian the strength of his reputation, but even more importantly, the wisdom of his insights regarding policy, politics, and the critical challenge of achieving a more sustainable world. Bill would also frequently tap Meridian to bring our expertise to bear on the challenging issues of the day. I had the honor of working with him on a number of such efforts, including the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (he was appointed by President George W. Bush) and the subsequent Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, which he Chaired and is housed at Meridian.

In addition, Bill was instrumental in building other institutions dedicated to applying collaborative problem-solving expertise to challenging issues at the local, state, national, and international levels. We were proud to assist him in his work at what became the Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming. He also led the establishment of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center hosted by the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Throughout our years of working with Bill, Meridian’s leadership heard a constant refrain: we needed to instill the values and skills of collaboration into the next generation of leaders. Last year, we honored this commitment by renaming our fellowship program for recent undergraduates the Ruckelshaus Fellowship. I know that all who participate in the fellowship as well as all of us who do this work at Meridian carry with us great respect for the commitment, passion, heart, and wisdom that Bill brought to all he accomplished in his remarkable life. I am proud to have known him, I am inspired by his example, and I am so thankful for all he gave us.

Bill Ruckelshaus (center) with Meridian Senior Fellow Rich Innes (left) and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and JOCI Leadership Council Co-Chair Norm Mineta (right).