Steve Sawyer, 1956-2019

A place to share memories of an unforgettable colleague and friend

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken”

— Terry Pratchett

Go straight to the stories in the comments

Steve passed away July 31st, 2019, of a sudden and aggressive lung cancer.

We are gathering stories to celebrate his extraordinary life – simply leave a comment below, and do remember to either log in or sign your comment with your name.

Update March 2020: Thank you to everyone who donated funds in Steve’s memory, to be applied in support of young activists working for a safe climate and clean energy future. An announcement regarding this programme will be made soon.


Obituaries in the press:

The New York Times
The Times (London)
The Economist
The Washington Post
The Monadnock Ledger
Renato Redentor Constantino
Greenpeace International

From the Antrim, New Hampshire memorial:

Songs Steve Sawyer loved – a playlist
Winslow (Tom) Sawyer speaks about growing up with Steve
John Cascino reads a remembrance from Peter Lamb

From the Amsterdam memorial:

Recording of the Livestream (Adobe Flash required)
Andy Stirling Tribute
P
eter Bahouth Tribute
Tribute Video

Go straight to the stories in the comments

Join the Conversation

245 Comments

  1. A lot has been said… still there are not enough words for this sad lost and to express our gratitude to Steve. Sad to see you leaving us so soon. Thanks for everything ! R.I.P.

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  2. Extremely sorry to learn about Steve’s untimely death. Cancer can hit anyone and is a nasty beast.
    In UN Environment we have had many engagements with Steve on climate and renewable issues and benefitted greatly from his insights and advice. His commitment and engagement was always inspiring, and he was easy to recognise at meetings with his roller case and energetic appearance.
    Hard to belive he will not be in NY for the SG Summit or in Chile for the COP.

    Just to show his standing it may be nice to know that several Danish newsmedia had long stories about his achievements.

    My thoughts go to his family, be assured that the fight against climate change will be continued, but he will be badly missed.

    John

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  3. What a shock to hear about Steve’s passing away. My first memory of Steve dates back to 1989 on Keizersgracht in Amsterdam where Greenpeace International was settling in. I was new at reception. Steve came up tot collect his mail and started helping me sorting the mail and asked how things went at reception. Later I could also see from nearby how he worked when working on the USSR-project. Never before and never after him did I have a nicer and more intelligent ED.
    Kelly, Sam and Layla, I wish you lots of strenghts with your loss.
    Sjoukje de Graaf

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  4. Humbly focussed on the cause, trying not to miss the underlying big story nor the detail that could fuck up all the brilliant plan … and than think it over again, if time permits…. Steve taught me so much during the few encounters we had in the Leilygracht Gpi of the 90ies. Thanks man! Rest well. Hugs to you, Kelly! A great one is gone and will be remembered with a grin.

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  5. As referenced by earlier blog posts, the 1985 evacuation of Rongelap islanders radiated by the testing of American nuclear weapons was a key moment in Steve’s life. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why he was supportive of a series of Greenpeace nuclear disarmament campaigns, and opposition to war such the First Gulf War – the American led invasion of Kuwait and the bombing of Iraq in 1991 and the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. But then for Steve the name Greenpeace was always programme. Peace and environment were equally important for him, peace with nature and peace among people was indivisible for him. In this belief he never waivered even when sometimes disarmament campaigns were not popular, especially in his native country.

    Of course opposition to nuclear weapons testing was the founding campaign of Greenpeace in 1971, a campaign that continued until Greenpeace led global public opinion forced France’s Jacques Chirac to finally end testing in 1996.

    In ’87, Steve was one of the key people in Greenpeace to launch the Nuclear Free Seas campaign to rid the oceans of naval nuclear weapons belonging to the US, Soviet Union, the UK, France and China. Steve overcame doubts and criticism to make sure that his US Greenpeace office was firmly behind the new campaign. What followed was a popular, action led, research backed, politically targeted, confrontational campaign against mainly American warships in city harbours across Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. High seas actions against Russian warships took place in the Mediterranean, and the Baltic. By the time Steve had moved to Greenpeace International, the NFS campaign moved to take on the testing of the American Trident missile off the coast of Florida, stopping a test completely in July 1989, then suffering the most damage inflicted upon a Greenpeace vessel short of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in a high profile clash in December 1989. And all the time, now from the helm of Greenpeace, Steve gave his full support for this work.
    The nuclear testing campaign was re-invigorated with the Greenpeace activists over-running the Soviet nuclear test site on the Arctic islands of Novaya Zemlya in October 1990, and the American test site near Las Vegas in January 1991.

    Later that month the United States unleashed a vicious attack against Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and against the Iraqi people by systemic bombing of civilian targets, knocking out the electricity system and paralyzing the country’s food supply. Retreating Iraqi forces deliberately set fire to Kuwati oil wells. Steve helped pull together 2 Greenpeace fact-finding missions, the first to assess the damage being wrought by the well fires, the second to assess the damage to the civilian population of Iraq by American air strikes. Greenpeace’s on-the-ground work in the Gulf and inside Iraq pioneered today’s common methods of assessing the civilian impact of warfare and the far-reaching effects that destruction of civilian infrastructure – such as electrical power – could have on humans and the environment.
    Sawyer was very supportive of the research trip to Former Yugoslavia to assess the environmental impact of that war. Greenpeace was invited by the Croatians but needed to be neutral. Sawyer was a strong supporter of that mission even as it started to ‘creep’ and developed into a side trip to Serbia. It led to the development of the Greenpeace land mines and anti personal weapons campaign.

    But wait, there’s more !!! After the fall of the Berlin Wall in ‘89 American, British, and Soviet battlefield nuclear weapons remained deployed outside of their respective national territories across Europe. Under Steve’s leadership Greenpeace launched the Euronukes campaign in 1991, to rid Europe of these dangerous relics of the Cold War. NATO headquarters in Brussels was blockaded, various nuclear military bases were over-run by Greenpeace activists and plastic nuclear “bombs” were Returned to Sender at the UK Aldermaston bomb factory. By far the most audacious was Operation Loose Cannon; an effort to take possession of a nuclear warhead in former East Germany from a disgruntled Soviet junior army officer over the summer of ’91 in return for safe page to Sweden. Steve was at the center of planning operation Loose Cannon, which unfortunately did not succeed because the breakup of the Soviet Union changed the security arrangements. Repatriation of those weapons happened almost immediately. Not only did Steve back this complicated operation, he actively participated in its planning, fully aware of the enormous risks for activists and the organisation.

    It was as always thus with Steve. The organisation was more important than himself and the cause was more important than the organisation.

    William (Bill) Arkin
    Gerd Leipold
    Steve Shallhorn
    John Sprange

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    1. Bill, Gerd, Steve and John. What a terrific precis of some of GP’s riskiest and most impactful work. With Steve Sawyer front and centre in it all and always having the courage and clear sightedness to the cause to do whatever it takes.

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  6. I was fortunate enough to work with Steve the whole ten years I was at Greenpeace. What I most admired about him, among many traits, was his activeness in sharing information about campaigns to all the office staff. If memory serves, I recall him and Sebia Hawkins pointing to a big map of the Pacific in the R street USA office and explaining how and why the Pacific Campaign was going to proceed. I was always grateful, being in administration, to get news about campaigns. I also recall, if memory serves, Steve calling me into his office to give me admiring comments on a fundraising booklet I had put together. He was always good at giving out compliments. I always wanted his admiration, it meant a lot to me. I thought he was a super brain and just so dedicated to Greenpeace. I worked with Steve in getting the money wired out around the world and I could always count on finding him before the bank deadline. I also enjoyed the Sea Slug games with him. I am very sorry upon hearing of Steve’s death. All my condolences go out to Kelly and Steve’s family. Love, Dorothy

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  7. I’m so saddened by the news that an old friend died a few weeks ago.

    Steve Sawyer was a force to be reckoned with, as I learned early in my tenure as Director of Greenpeace New England when he marched into my office straight off the Rainbow Warrior. He gave me instructions— about whatever was under discussion- I think our campaign priorities – with his signature disregard for authority, even within an organization he loved.

    I quickly learned to respect his opinion and perspective, and sought him out as a sounding board.

    Steve was smart as hell, deeply committed to the environmental movement but in no way naive. He possessed a great wry wit. He’ll be missed!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had the great privilege of spreading my activist wings at Greenpeace’s Keizersgracht office from 1989 to 1997. For most of that period Steve was at the helm and really was the helm of an organization that was beginning to show the capacity of operating truly internationally. It was demonstrating capacity to applying simultaneous and sustained and coordinated pressure at focal points across the globe and across a variety of disciplines — from direct action to political lobbying. To me it was some kind of zenith and a blueprint for how global environmental work could and should be accomplished.

    Steve understood this new potential of acting in concert across borders while bringing multiple tactics to bear. He knew how an organization’s structure and persistence and diversity was essential to success.

    I remember one early one Amsterdam morning when we were loading up a van with our literature on waste trade to drive all of it and us to the Basel Convention meeting in Geneva when Steve, on his way into the office, stopped to acknowledge our hauling box after box out the doors. He asked how the waste trade campaign was going and whether we are likely to get the ban we sought. I said yes, I believe it was, but it would take a strong sustained push from the organization on all fronts, and would likely take 3 more years. I will never forget him listening intently and then saying without hesitation, “you got it.”

    We drove across France, to do battle in Geneva, with those words as wind in our sails and with grins on our faces. He had our back and understood the slog it takes to win something lasting. The Basel Ban Amendment prohibiting the export of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries for any reason, was passed by consensus in 1995 on schedule. It and many other Greenpeace victories accomplished in that golden era due in large part to a unique executive’s vision, blessing, and confidence bestowed.

    — Jim Puckett, Founder and Director, Basel Action Network, (formerly Greenpeace International co-director of Waste Trade Campaign, and Toxics Director)

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  9. “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” –JRR Tolkien

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  10. To me, Steve always was the personification of Greenpeace at its best. Tirelessly and courageously fighting for the cause, always focused on the big picture while strong on every detail. Steve was a role-model in so many ways, with his sharp intelligence, dedication and generosity. I regret not having had the opportunity to work more closely with him, both during our time at Greenpeace and in the renewables industry. And yet, he left such a strong impression!

    Steve will live on as a legend and an inspiration.

    My deepest sympathy to Kelly, Sam and of course to Layla, whose incredible strength and love I can only admire!

    Frauke

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  11. I had the privilege of working with my friend Steve for 12 years first in Washington then in Lewes and then in Amsterdam and he truly was great man whose many great accomplishments remain underappreciated. He will be greatly missed!
    Doug Falkner

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  12. Steve was a mentor for me and many others. Even 16 years before #FridaysForFuture started, Steve recognized the power of youth to drive climate action. He welcomed a group of idealistic and determined youth to join Greenpeace’s delegation to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. He supplied us with the best policy and political advice, and then he let us loose to disrupt the status quo. Steve led by empowering others, including young women like I was at the time of the Summit. He demanded stellar work. The bar was always set high. But he had no qualms with letting others take the lead. He set us free to call for justice, accountability and hope for greener and more peaceful and greener world. Thank you, Steve, we will not let you down. We will carry on.

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  13. Sorry for my computer illeiteracy (that would have infurited Steve), I was not bale to put my name. I am Arnaud Apoteker.

    What to add to such a great collection of memories and quotes from all over!
    As a humble and new campaigner from Greenpeace France at a time of tensions with GPI, I had a preconceived image of an authoritative and insensitive big chief before I had the chance to meet him and be so impressed by its vision and strategic capacity. He became quickly one of my gurus  And he was also so funny!
    Since then, meeting here and there, from GPI office in Amsterdam to Papeete or Porto Alegre, we became friends and I feel so honored about it.
    He is for me the symbol of Greenpeace at its best.
    As you’re meeting for a farewell today in Amsterdam, I am sending you all my sympathy, and love to Kelly, Layla and Sam. I will keep fond memories of Steve forever.

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  14. What an honor to work with Steve in the GPI climate and energy team when I first joined Greenpeace. He seemed to be always on the phone at his desk, feet up on the table. And then would hop on his scooter to traverse the distance from campaigns side to the Comms side of the office. He was generous with his time and knowledge if you asked for help or his opinion. Also loved his stories about his Greenpeace adventures and how he was so proud of having played all roles in the organization – fundraiser, radio operator, campaigner, exec director, etc. And I always enjoyed receiving his annual family newsletter.
    He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed. Rest In Peace Mr. Sawyer.
    Sending love to Kelly, Layla and Sam.

    Maia

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  15. It has taken a while for Steve’s departure to sink in like many of you. I think we first met in 1982 in Hawaii when he was representing GPUS at a regional meeting and I was there representing a small newer organisation Greenpeace Australia. Pete Bahouth, Stev Mac, Carol Stewart, Elaine Shaw were also there. We then next all met again in Auckland at the time of the RW bombing. Steve instantly became a valued colleague, and our paths crossed many times when we worked nationally and then for the projects and work that we did at Greenpeace International in the 80’s and up to mid 2000’s. In Lewes, in the late 1980’s when Steve first became GPI ED I had not long relocated there as issue coordinator for disarmament and then in the early 90’s we worked together, I as Campaigns Director at GPI until he resigned the ED post and went back to field work and front line campaigning. We both did actually. I would say we worked like intuitive radar at times. I recall under Steve’s leadership over half of our GPI budget was deliberately set aside for Campaigns and the second highest budget was for the Ships and Actions department. We had 8 ships and 35 projects at that time and the organisation was incredibly active across so many fronts and being financially stable. It was a time when we would score a lot of wins with the right strategy, a lot of work, political savvy, and global pressure.

    Steve also helped launch a more global organisation through setting up Central and South American offices, closely followed by offices in Asia. Without this work the organisation could not be quite where it is today. I remember many conversations and long meetings in Keizersgracht but so much resulted from those meetings that had a positive impact on issues around the world. I remember often finding Steve in his tiny office surrounded by papers most Sunday afternoons clearing backlog ready for the week ahead. Having moved back to Australia our paths last crossed at the 2015 Paris COP I was glad to see him again be it too short. I very much appreciated his deep thought and intelligence and admired he had the ability to genuinely talk to anyone no matter their rank, status or nation. On a lighter note I did enjoy his one liners and humor in the face of adversity. An amazing legacy is left – may it continue.

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  16. Death is nothing at all
    I have only slipped away into the next room.
    I am I and you are you.
    Whatever we were to each other that we are still.

    Call me by my old familiar name,
    Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
    Put no difference into your tone;
    Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
    Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

    Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

    Let my name be ever the household word it always was
    Let it be spoken without effect,
    Without the ghost of a shadow on it.

    Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was;
    There is absolutely unbroken continuity.

    I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
    All is well.

    Canon Henry Scott

    Goodbye Steve. I am sorry we never had that chance to sail together again in Antrim or on the coast of Maine that we spoke about over dinner together last September in Hamburg and again in April in Bilbao. You will continue to be an inspiration and a guide to all of us that knew and loved you. I will treasure my memories of meeting you at multiple COPs when you were a climate campaigner with Greenpeace and then for more than a decade as the head of GWEC. I will miss you dearly and will continue to pray for Kelly, Layla and Sam.

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  17. Sadly I didn’t get to spend much time with Steve in person, as I was mostly living in Tokyo with the beginning of Greenpeace Japan while he was ED. So I don’t have any of those funny, poignant, personal stories that so many others have shared.

    But here’s the thing. I always knew that Steve had my back during those years I was in Japan, getting pressure from some quarters to do the usual campaign actions no matter how counterproductive we knew it to be. Of course Steve understood, and he really helped allow the new office to develop without trouble from those who just didn’t get it. I’ll always be grateful for his faithful support.

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  18. Fondly remembering Steve Sawyer. At the PSW canvassers retreat late 1980s. Mirror Lake. Yosemite. I sherpaed an oversized pack stuffed with sandwiches, that were assembled at Fort Mason, for the group attending the oration given that day by Steve. He spoke about environmentalism and conservationism and I must admit it was a bit beyond my intellect. My perception, however, was clear. He presented himself as a man of conviction who believed in what he was saying and was a strong trustworthy leader. No BS. No two faced act. I admired his ability to inspire.

    The next morning, pre dawn, I left my mutually warmed bunk to star gaze. I produced some herbal tea and noticed Steve sitting on a log huddled under a blanket. He was stoking what remained of a campfire. Moonlight helped me gather an armful of renewable fuel. He heard my approach and admonished me for disrupting the composition of the forest floor. I reminded him that the sandwiches that fed his audience were wrapped in plastic and made with tuna. He chuckled and nodded at the touche moment and granted dispensation. I sat next to him on the log and shared some tea, stories about canvassing, playing music, …

    I am remembering Steve Sawyer. My humble condolences to those who miss him. When the Warriors of the Rainbow come to help the Earth they will be led by Fernando Pereira, Bob Hunter and Steve Sawyer. May Gaia bless us all

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