This is not the year-end message I wanted to send. Instead of a rousing appeal for support for our plans, I have to be the bearer of terrible news.
Our young, bright and passionate executive director, Becky Tarbotton, died suddenly on Wednesday, overwhelmed by the surf on a sunny afternoon in Mexico while on vacation with her husband, Mateo Williford, and a circle of her closest friends.
As you can imagine, we are in shock. The world is less bright today. Just 39, Becky was a rising star in our movement. She was in charge of RAN’s campaigns until three years ago, when the Board asked her to lead the organization. In a few short months, she established herself as a truly catalytic leader—a brilliant and effervescent campaigner who captivated, motivated and delighted everyone she met.
Just last Friday, Becky and I met for our monthly lunch in my role as Chair of the Board. I considered our meetings over a meal to be the best part of my work here, and Friday was no exception. Our lunch turned into a three-hour festival of ideas, plans, speculation and debate over her luminous and transformative vision for the Rainforest Action Network.
“I love this job,” she said. “I love what we are trying to do.” And then she thanked me for having her back, as she put it. As if being swept along behind this supernova of a woman was anything but a blessing and a delight, one of the greatest of my life.
Now is our time to mourn. I’m not sure how long that takes. The San Francisco staff and friends are gathering tonight at my house, and friends and supporters around the country are pausing to honor Becky’s life and everything she meant to us.
Here’s what I do know: What Becky brought forth for us, and for the community of people and organizations around us, is a matchless vision. “What we’re really talking about, if we’re honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet,” she said in a speech at our annual dinner just 10 short weeks ago. “We don’t always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it’s that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens—and that is where I strive to be.”
I also know that under Becky’s leadership this year, RAN secured one of the most significant victories in our organization’s 27-year history: After 18 months of negotiations with RAN, The Walt Disney Company agreed to stop buying paper for its global operations from endangered rainforests in Indonesia and elsewhere. Under Becky, and with your support, we moved a $40 billion corporate giant to change its business practices and stand up for rainforests.
One of Becky’s many, many virtues was that she was unaware, in a most self-effacing and authentic way, just how deeply loved and respected she was as a leader and a visionary in our large and growing community.
But gestures of support are flowing in. We’ve set up a tribute page to help memorialize this amazing woman. This is a place for Becky’s whole community to celebrate her, share memories and feelings. We welcome your voices.
And for those of you who wish to support Becky’s ongoing vision for RAN, we have set up a place to accept donations in memory of Becky.
Becky is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford, who works to advance solar power at Sungevity, her mother, Mary Tarbotton, and brothers, Jesse Tarbotton and Cameron Tarbotton. Our hearts and love are with them through this devastating time. If you would like to send anything to her family, colleagues, and friends, please send them to RAN at 425 Bush Street, Ste. 300, San Francisco, CA 94108. We will ensure they are delivered.
I hope you will continue to join RAN as we remain committed to the course that Becky set for all of us. We will continue to focus on our core purpose of protecting forests, moving the country off of fossil fuels and defending human rights through effective, innovative and hard-hitting environmental corporate campaigns—campaigns powered by people like you.
Many of you have probably been here before. Life is full of tragedies, big and small. Reach out to people you love, and remember how much is at stake, for each of us, and for the Earth.
Becky often said that we are in this for the long term. And so we are.
Thanks for being a supporter of ours, and of all the groups like us. There is so much to be grateful for, even now.