Remembering Ted Stiles

April 28, 2010

David Grant, President and CEO

Earlier this week, I received the Edmund W. Stiles Award for Environmental Stewardship, presented by the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association at their Annual Meeting.

Whatever I did to deserve the award pales besides the accomplishments of the man it is named after – but that’s not the point.  The point was it gave us all a chance to remember Ted together and, for a few moments, to have our own lives invigorated anew by his example.

Ted StilesTed was a biologist, a Rutgers professor, and a citizen activist.  Early in my time at Dodge I had the pleasure of canoeing in the Pinelands with him, and I realized right away I was in the company of a natural teacher.  He conveyed knowledge, to be sure, but specific knowledge fades.  More important was his attitude, his way of knowing and being, which left an indelible impression on me and on thousands of others.

Ted backed up his love of the natural world with patient, persistent activism in the civic sector.  He chaired the Stony Brook Millstone Board.  His relation to the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space is something like that of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln combined to the United States. He played key roles in the work of the Hutchinson Memorial Forest, the Hopewell Township Environmental and Open Space Commissions, and the D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Ted Stiles 2At Ted’s memorial service over three years ago, hundreds of people gathered wearing his signature plaid shirt and told stories of Ted’s love of family, the land, music, life.   I know I was not alone in thinking, “This is how I want to live my life – so people might feel something like this at my death.”

When I accepted the Ted Stiles Award, I read a paragraph from an essay by Paul Raskin in which he envisions a sustainable world.  He writes as if he were in the year 2084, and he is looking back on the “Great Transition” that took place in the 21st century, most notably in a shift in dominant values.  One of those shifts was from “domination of nature” to “an ecological consciousness.”

Raskin describes the mindset of people in 2084:

With their highly evolved “ecological sensibility”, people today are both mystified and horrified by the feckless indifference of earlier generations to the natural world.  Where the right to dominate nature was once sacrosanct, people today hold a deep reverence for the natural world, finding in it endless wonder and enjoyment.  Love of nature is complemented by the humility that comes with a deep appreciation of humanity’s place in the web of life, and dependence on its bounty.  Sustainability is a core part of the contemporary worldview, which would deem any compromise of the integrity of our planetary home as both laughably idiotic and morally wrong.

If we have any chance of getting from where we are today to something like what Raskin describes, it will be because of organizations like Stony Brook-Millstone, and people like Ted Stiles.

I feel honored to be associated with them both.

And it strikes me you don’t have to be a nonprofit organization with an Annual Meeting to create a vehicle for remembering someone who inspires you and reminds you of your deepest values.

Who would you name an award after?