It has been about a year since you were gathered here, to celebrate the critically important role of sustainable agriculture in reclaiming healthy communities and economies. I had the pleasure of being here briefly to help celebrate one of Hank Graddy’s milestone birthdays, and to rib Hank in the process, which is something I never pass on the opportunity to do.
I’m here today to celebrate and to honor one among you who has been an inspiration to me for many years, and who has been a tireless laborer in the fields of justice in all its many facets.
Some years ago, Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, set out to write a book of memoirs and instead wrote a book of prayers. In it, she captured the essence of the person we honor today:
Lord, help me not to be a taker but a tender,
Lord, help me not to be a whiner but a worker,
Lord, help me not to be a getter but a giver,
Lord, help me not to be a hindrance but a help,
Lord, help me not to be a critic but a catalyst for good.
While somewhat diminutive in physical stature (we prefer the term “compact”) she has and continues to make a “mighty” impact in all the lives she has touched and all of the causes she has fought to advance with her tenacious devotion to justice.
Bear with me while I read one of the letters that we have collected from friend, family and colleagues, this one from Aloma and Lee Dew:
By Lee and Aloma Dew
How can one describe her? Words leap to mind—Dedicated, Tenacious, Courageous, Caring, Loving, Optimistic, Loyal, Patriotic. She is all of these and more in her daily life, her dedication to her hometown and county, and to the environment she loves.
She is from Madisonville, Hopkins County, in the heart of the Western Kentucky coalfield, and saw firsthand the destruction of land and pollution of air and water brought about by decades of strip mining. She has devoted her intellect and energy to the fight to mitigate these practices, and to work for policies statewide that would prevent further degradation of the environment, whether by mining, factory animal agriculture, landfill operations, clear-cut logging, or the many other challenges which confront Kentucky. She is dedicated.
She is tenacious. She doesn’t give up—whether it is fighting the greed of exploiters, the venality of politicians, the apathy of a downtrodden citizenry, or the threat of cancer. She is determined; she is tenacious.
She is courageous. She has been willing to take on the rich and the powerful, whether it be the big coal companies, the entrenched political establishment, an often hostile press, even in spite of occasional personal threats against her. She is courageous.
She is caring. She cares for her family, her hometown, her farm, her friends, and her land. A threat to any of these is a threat to her, and to her most precious values. She is loving.
She is optimistic. Despite frequent setbacks, despite frequent personal attacks, despite personal frustrations and losses, she remains convinced that change is possible, that Kentucky and Hopkins County can be made better—that the bad guys don’t always get to win. To be an environmentalist, or any kind of reformer, demands an essential optimism, and her optimism is contagious, even in the face of overwhelming odds.
She is loyal. Loyal to her friends, her ideas, her environment, and her beliefs. Unfortunately this has led to frequent disappointments with people she thought were friends and allies, including politicians who failed to fulfill promises, business friends who opposed her, and others who were inconstant in support of the issues she holds dear. But she was always loyal to these issues!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she is patriotic. She is a true patriot—one who not only loves her state and country, even with its flaws, but strives to improve and perfect our nation and world. Perhaps “patriot” is the most important definition of an environmentalist, for it implies the kind of love that means sacrificial devotion to improvement of the nation. she is the embodiment of these definitions.
All honor to her—a Kentucky heroine: a Kentucky treasure!
Would you join me in recognizing a true Kentucky treasure, Sue Anne Salmon.