Remembering Maxine McCloskey

Our Earth is a better place for her having worked so tirelessly

World Reports

Maxine McClosky, a long-time whale advocate and environmental leader, has died in Portland, Oregon.

Maxine’s husband is Michael McClosky, former Executive Director and later Chairman of the Sierra Club. Maxine worked on a tremendous variety of environmental issues for many years, mostly as an unpaid volunteer, including editing some of the Sierra Club’s proceedings from the Wilderness Conferences held in the 1960s.

Maxine was active very early on on whale issues, helping Joan McIntyre set up Project Jonah. Maxine later joined with Ronn Storo-Patterson, Tom Johnson, and others to establish the Whale Center in Oakland, California, which she ran for many years in a former candy shop on Piedmont Avenue. Much of the Whale Center’s legacy is still with us—the Whalebus was started by the Whale Center to bring an educational program around to school children in the Bay Area. It is still going strong as a project now of the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County. Maxine and the Whale Center was an active presence at International Whaling Commission meetings, helping establish the international moratorium on commercial whaling approved in 1982. Maxine also helped establish the then-named Point Reyes/Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of San Francisco, talking directly with Secretary of Interior Cecil Andrus at the end of the Carter Administration, who saw that the sanctuary was established shortly before the Reagan Administration took control of the White House in 1980. I am forever grateful to Maxine for asking me to head up the Whale Center, which I did for five years in the 1980s, after running the Center’s successful whalewatching program.

As a volunteer, Maxine represented the Sierra Club on numerous whale issues, through the Sierra Club’s National Coastal Committee. She was a staunch member of my colleagues who worked on the successful Dolphin Safe tuna controversy from the 1980s through today, an effort I helped start in 1986 at the Whale Center with David Phillips and Todd Steiner of Earth Island Institute. Time Magazine called our win for the dolphins the most successful conservation gain of the 1980s. Maxine was also active on many wildlife issues with the Sierra Club’s National Wildlife Committee, which I chaired in the early 1980s.

Maxine had a wide array of experience on many many environmental issues, which helped immeasurably in discussions of strategy and tactics. She also was quick to volunteer for all kinds of jobs, often the ones nobody else wanted. She never asked for any thanks for all her immense body of work and support. We all owe her a great deal.

I know Maxine and Michael were very close, and they were an excellent team of dedicated environmentalists at a time when the environmental movement made great gains in the 1960s and 70s and blocked great losses during unfavorable turns in national politics. Maxine and Michael carried much more than their own weight. They were leaders of the movement to bring the care of our Earth to the attention of the world.

(By the way, I highly recommend Michael McClosky’s new book of memoirs, “In the Thick of It” by Island Press. He tells many of the behind-the-scenes stories of the major environmental battles he and Maxine fought over the past decades.)

It is always sad to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues. Maxine will be sorely missed by me and others who always found her a ready sounding board for the issues and difficulties we have faced through the years.

But her legacy of protected species, sanctuaries, wildernesses and habitats around the world will bear testament to her unselfish work. Our Earth is a better place for her having worked so tirelessly.

Thanks, Maxine; we—the whales and the people who love whales – will all miss you!

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