Sarah Burton

Peter Melchett was first a client of mine in my legal practice, who turned into a friend, a boss and then a mentor. He had a profound impact on my life. And also on the organisation we both loved, Greenpeace, because he was a change-maker; someone who had a vision for the organisation, in the UK and globally, and then worked tirelessly to help make that a reality.

As a client, he was clear in his instructions, decisive, and focused. And always grateful when a legal strategy worked! As a friend, he was warm, generous and loyal. Always made me laugh and feel good about myself. Invited me into his home, his family, his networks and with amazing facility made me feel a part of his life. As a boss, Peter was fair, honest, helpful – his job as your boss was to make you successful. He had the foresight to see the benefit of Greenpeace bringing in-house a lawyer who could both be a significant defender of the organisation, but also a proactive legal campaigner.

As a mentor, well, what does one say? In everything Peter lived his values. He was forthright, open, principled and clear-thinking. Even today, many years – decades – after we stopped working together, when needing to act in a difficult situation, particularly one involving conflict, I try to imagine how Peter would approach it, and emulate him. He could be tough as nails, but always calm and respectful. In making a complex and sensitive decision, or helping others to do so, he asked the question, “what are we trying to achieve here?” and let that guide the decision. It seems simple, but when emotions are riding high, it is not easy to step outside and ask that important question.

I learned about environmentalism from him, from his deep connection to and love for nature. I learned about management from him, from his desire to always improve outcomes and build people. I learned so much from Peter, and my only regret is not to have seen enough of him in recent years, when I have been living in Amsterdam…but that is my loss. And Peter’s death is all our loss.

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