Tribute to Donald K. Clifford, Jr.,
QLF Chairman Emeritus
Some of you have heard that Donald (Obie) Clifford, QLF Chairman Emeritus, died early Tuesday morning, August 8th. For others, this news will be a shock. His daughter, Robin, notified us. I was so taken with Robin’s words in her email that I hope she will forgive me if I share them with you.
“I wanted to let you know that Dad died at 2:15 this morning. All five of his children were there with him through the evening. His final departure was so peaceful and quiet – just a gradual awareness that the only sound had become the cricket’s song outside his bedroom window. Thank you again for your visit and all of your wonderful words of appreciation. It meant so much to him – it was quite overwhelming for him – to receive so much love in his last couple of weeks.”
Beth Alling, Clare McMorris, and I had each visited Obie at his home within the fortnight. The goodbyes were upbeat, the only type he would allow. He shared stories and was so positive about his life and all that he had been able to accomplish. He was a man at peace as he lived out his last days. He asked us to not mention to anyone that he was in hospice. How like Obie. As Robin mentioned, while in some obvious discomfort, he clearly relished exchanging stories, receiving calls, telling jokes, framing puns, and in so doing, bidding farewell to each of us. “The Clifford’s don’t show our emotions,” he exclaimed. We visitors ignored that and gave him big hugs instead. He didn’t seem to mind.
Words cannot do justice to what Obie Clifford meant to QLF. It will be for each of you reading this message to answer for yourselves. A bit of history, Obie came to QLF — some of you may not know this — through the introduction of QLF Board Member and close friend, Cottie Davison. Obie certainly knew Bob Bryan as a classmate at Yale, but they had not been in close touch. Bob of course was thrilled to welcome Obie to the Board in 1980. A management consultant and partner at McKinsey, Obie was perfect for QLF. He knew many of the Directors already through other associations and seemed to enjoy the “personality” of his new organization.
Obie – Opening Night, QLF Congress, 2006
Obie was elected to lead the QLF Board in 1997 and remained in that position until 2012. The watchwords listed under Obie’s name on the QLF “Board Leadership Timeline” are “Mission, Management, and Fiscal Accountability.” Absolutely accurate, but it only begins to acknowledge his contribution as QLF grew in the early years of the 21st century.
Beth Alling arrived on the scene in 2002 and the friendship that formed between the two is now legendary. Immediately, Obie saw and appreciated Beth’s own leadership skills and prodigious work ethic. They shared QLF’s vision to develop a new generation of conservation leaders. Obie became a mentor, not only to me, but also to Beth. No one was more thrilled when Beth assumed the Presidency of QLF in 2017 than Obie Clifford.
It was only natural that Obie put his stamp on both the 2006 QLF Congress in Budapest, and ten years later, the QLF Congress in Barcelona. For the latter he had planned to attend right up to the last minute. His array of increasingly complex medical problems simply was not going to allow him to travel. Instead, Kevin Porter went to Mt. Kisco and videotaped Obie’s introduction for the opening night of the Congress. It set the perfect tone for what followed in Catalonia. In his remarks Obie returned to his favorite theme about QLF and our role in the world. Quoting Obie,
“If we are to survive as individuals, let alone survive as a species, we must meet two central requirements:
- We must learn to live in harmony with each other, a test we are failing in many parts of the world today; and
- We must learn to live in harmony with our natural environment. To the extent we destroy nature, nature will surely destroy us. Living in harmony with nature is an absolute necessity for our survival. I don’t know about you, but I am strongly in favor of survival.
QLF’s Mission addresses both of these global challenges.”
Obie Clifford left us stronger and better to meet the challenges ahead. I remember one particularly stormy Board Meeting years ago when Directors were arguing over budgets and expenses. I was in the crosshairs for most of the barbs being tossed. As I should have been. I did not see many friendly faces around the table. Then I looked over at Obie. He smiled, winked, and passed me a small piece of paper, folded. On it were written three words: “Cash is King.” He taught me many life lessons — some small, some large. They have all served me well.
To be considered among Obie’s favorite charitable causes — and he had many — is quite an honor. Another of his passions, and a place I will visit soon, is the Wild Center in the Adirondacks. Its story, and Obie’s role in it, is told in the recent Harvard Business School article, which features distinguished Alumni. You can access it by clicking here.
Obie brought not only wisdom, knowledge, and experience, but enthusiasm and his love of people to every organization he supported, including ours. How lucky we are!
On behalf of President Beth Alling, Founder Bob Bryan, and QLF’s Governing Boards and staff in both the U.S. and Canada, I extend my deepest sympathy to the entire Clifford family. Obie Clifford, more than anyone else in the last 20 years, has made us who we are.
I visited Bob Bryan on Tuesday morning in Sherbrooke, Quebec, only hours after Obie’s passing. Together, we saluted QLF’s departed legend, mentor, and friend.
Let us all go now and celebrate a life well lived. He would like that.
– Lawrence B. Morris, QLF President Emeritus
Obie with U.S. Ambassador, George H. Walker, QLF Congress, Opening Night, 2006