Elaine Lawrence

I worked with Peter during his time at Greenpeace (I was the campaign director, and then later the board chair). Chris Rose, both a colleague at the time and a good friend, has written a great piece about Peter which is on this site and with which I wholeheartedly agree. Peter accomplished so much in his life both at Greenpeace and elsewhere. As someone who knew him well said to me recently – ‘he lived two lives, not one’. I am very grateful for and awed by all he did and achieved. I am deeply sad about his death and while i remember his great achievements, when i think about him the strongest feeling i have is that he was a good friend to me both in Greenpeace and afterward when, together with Cass, he supported me during a difficult period in my life. Peter was truly a person you could rely on 100%, both personally and at work and someone who took personal responsibility. He was a brave, honorable and kind person. It is a great loss for us all but of course most of all for his family to who i send my sympathies.

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William Lana

I first met Peter almost 20 years ago on the Standards Board of the Soil Association. I also experienced him as described by others here: incredibly skilled at working at all levels of policy making (and with all kinds of different policy makers), understanding and generous with anyone genuinely working towards a better future, and razor sharp to ensure that greenwash was trumped with facts.

I most recently worked with him last year on a Sustainable Cotton communiqué which bought together about 20 clothing companies (mine being the smallest by a long way) who recognised that “practical solutions to making cotton production more sustainable exist today” but that “the pace of their adoption is too slow” … And, for me, that was Peter in a nutshell – an eco-accelerator, a change catalyst, a rational, green, super-activist. (now I wish I’d made him an organic cotton superhero costume). He wrapped all of that up in a man who would happily debate the pro and cons of things open-mindedly (I remember one such chat on anaerobic digesters which he wasn’t really a fan of), and someone who was quick to open up and laugh heartedly at himself or a situation (this is what I see when I close my eyes now: Peter squinting and then his bellow of a laugh which was short, robust, and warm).

The world, and the debate, will not be the same with him gone. A mutual friend said “he was working up until very recently, it is what he wanted” and that didn’t surprise me at all. In fact, if I think of him reading this I think he would probably ask us – in a gentle, firm, respectful kind of a way – to “up our game”. “Well done on making those improvements, and I think we can do better, I think future generations compel us to do better”. Thank you Peter. What an honour it was to know you.

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Keith Tyrell

I was away when I heard the news of Peter’s death. It was a great shock and weeks later, I am still sad and reeling. Peter was a huge inspiration for me – long before I joined PAN – I was a fan, following his tireless campaigning. In time, I was lucky enough to work with Peter and he lived up to the image I had of him before I met him – fearless, principled, articulate and driven to make the world a better place. He was fantastic at forensically setting out the case for action and using evidence and facts to demolish his opponents. But he was more than a good campaigner, he was a great human being – thoughtful, supportive and always willing to spare time to help others. The environment has lost a great champion, but we have lost a friend.

Herbi Blake

So many wonderful words have been said here about Peter – I echo them all. One of the most extraordinary things about him was how he spread about his warmth, confidence, respect, humanity, wit and razor sharp intellect so evenly and generously to all he worked with and to all who worked for him.

I think I can take some credit for playing a small part in his conversion to organic, through a quite extensive correspondence we had in the 90’s when he was director of Greenpeace but still farming conventionally and I was running the Soil Association’s certification scheme and standards. He was quite a catch when he did convert his farm, but little did we know then how that was only the start of it!

Some years later, after he joined the Soil Association as Policy Director and I was Standards Director, I had the privilege to be in his team. What an amazing example he was to learn from and to be close to. His management inspired and empowered everyone, as so many have so eloquently written here.

He told me a few years ago that the reason he started working for the Soil Association was to continue campaigning but without all the management responsibility, so that he could simply enjoy himself. Well, of course he kept being persuaded to take on a bit more management, and then trying to shed it again! Needless to say, he was a superlative manager, as well as a superlative campaigner and strategist, and inspiring speaker, and all the rest! We were so very lucky he chose us!

Peter gave my wife, Jane, and I an open invitation to his farm when we came to visit our son at UEA. We spent a happy afternoon in his and Cass’s company and appreciated the source (and the result) of his inspiration: a beautifully managed farm thronging with wildlife, healthy crops, happy pigs and cattle, and the rest. It was a shining example of organic principles in action, and of his love of the farm and his fine management.

Peter, you were truly a ‘great’ man, in all senses of the word. That’s why we all loved you. We, and indeed the whole World, owe you so very much. Thank you, and thank you to Cass for sharing him so generously with us all. Our hearts go out to you and your family.

Emma Slawinski

I first encountered Peter when I joined Compassion in World Farming in 2011. It was my first foray into animal welfare/farming campaigning and I didn’t know the sector well. We spoke on the phone and I had this incessant, niggling feeling that I had met Peter before but couldn’t place it. Before first meeting Peter in person had a quick google and was confronted with a picture of Peter trampling down GM crops in his bio-suit, one of the enduring campaigning images of the 90s, and one which had informed my decision to become a campaigner. Unknowingly on both our parts, my campaigning career is Peter’s doing. I never told him that, and now I will never be able to.

I was a bit nervous about meeting him in person, having realised exactly who he was. I met him outside a tube station. He arrived on his bicycle and insisted we go to the pub. He was just so open and friendly, you felt like a fellow conspirator within minutes of being with him.

We worked together, with colleagues at Sustain, on the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming and other issues for many years and shared many laughs, frustrations and plans to change the world. I loved his irrepressible conviction that because we were on the morally right side of the issues, we would eventually prevail, and his ability to punctuate any tension with a mischievous aside.

We once went together to lobby the Government, it was an important meeting and I was a little anxious. I shared this with Peter who gave a wry smile and said: “I think it is them who should be feeling nervous, don’t you?”

Once when we went to talk to The Guardian an Irish journalist there was incredibly excited to meet Peter, remembering when he had visited her school when he was a Minister. I remember her saying “It meant so much to us that you visited, and you really seemed to care.” He glowed at being remembered in this way, but being Peter, modestly moved the conversation on to other things.

You could feel, and normally hear, his presence when he joined any meeting or event. I don’t think I ever saw him ill at ease or perturbed, and that sense of confidence permeated to all those working with him.

His loss is felt deeply by all those who know him at Compassion, he was such a pivotal figure for so many people.

I counted him as a friend and I find it hard to believe I will never hear his voice booming out of my phone again.

Carrie Stebbings

I worked with Peter when I became Coordinator of the GM Freeze campaign in 2003. Although I was new to campaigning and very much a novice he accepted me as part of the team and included me in the job we had to do. He readily agreed to be a speaker at the GM Nation public debate I organised at Borough Market, and he never presented himself as being superior, despite his huge wealth of experience. I moved away from London in 2008, and a few years later Peter came to give a talk in Kendal where I live. After the talk I went to say ‘hello’ and told him that I was at that point a full-time Mum to my young son. He smiled and said ‘Ah, the hardest job of all’. I found him a kind and inspirational man and am grateful that he put so much skill and energy in to protecting and promoting the environment for so many years. And he did have a great chuckle.

Letter to Steve Warshal

Written the day after Peter’s death

 

Dear Steve

I was shocked and upset to learn from John Sauven yesterday of Peter’s death. It’s so hard to imagine still less bear.

I know how much you loved him and I have some idea, I think, of quite how much of life you two shared. My deepest condolences and sympathy.

My own first encounter with Peter was with you. It was my interview for Greenpeace (1986), in a dingy backroom of the timber wharf warehouse in Islington. A pretty unpromising place, I thought. I was prepared to be disappointed by the experience having something of a dim view of Greenpeace at the time. Then I met you guys. There was a friendly intensity – an absolute seriousness, leavened by immense charm. These people mean business, I thought. And you did. And then we did.

Working with Peter was one of the great privileges of my life. Greenpeace was a powerful experience, but having the opportunity to work and be alongside Peter was transformational. I was green (as in naive) as a spring leaf but he was patient and coached and encouraged. His energy and organisational skills were prodigious, his intellect and powers of measured reasoning sublime, and the bastard also had empathy and humanity too. I adored him.

Of course, Peter was in bold contrast to others who were impressive and admirable in many ways but, for me, a drain. I would have left Greenpeace within a year and thereby missed out on one of the most powerful experiences of my life without Peter’s calm and reassuring presence in the background. We eventually let rip of course and it was a blast…anything and everything began to seem possible. We started to feel we could change the world and I think we did. We got Greenpeace in shape, created a culture of trust and creativity and for calculated risk-taking that enabled an explosion of campaigning energy, flair and impact. The world shifted on its axis.

And Peter was the foundation, the father, the engineer. He got us in the right places, helped us practically, introduced a rigour in critical reasoning then let us do our thing. It was an object lesson in leadership: quiet actually, relatively unassuming but omnipresent too so that we never felt alone and exposed. We also knew, for sure, that the opposition – from world governments to global corporations – didn’t have anyone to compare with our leader; no-one who either had his stamina or could out-reason him, match his quiet passion and his unassuming but wholly resolute confidence. It made us feel impregnable.

I’d been in the organisation for two weeks when Peter abandoned me one evening in a Greenpeace international trustee meeting in Lewes. David McTaggart was on the prowl; in electric mood and mode, promoting World Park Antarctica and a Greenpeace base there with a fierce and crystalline intensity. Peter cooly announced he had a parent teacher evening or something akin in Kentish Town and I was suddenly the UK trustee…I was crapping myself and McTaggart was staring straight at me. It came to a vote. About half of the trustee body was for David’s proposition and half against. Mine was the deciding vote. Oh fuck. What did Peter want, or Alan? Who knew? Fuck, fuck. I decided that having a base in Antarctica was a good idea for us; I listened to the arguments and made a decision – casting vote, here we go!! The next day back in London Alan furious, Peter amused! Not sure he agreed that I’d done the right thing but he supported me all the way. I later confessed I’d found David somewhat intimidating and asked whether Peter felt the same way. Well, ‘no, not really’, Peter replied. As Under Secretary-of-State in Northern Ireland he’d had the Reverend Ian Paisley bellowing at him day in day out and while McTaggart was a force he didn’t quite compare. And there it was…in a nutshell – Peter had that worldliness, that experience, that assurance and he deployed it to embolden us all whether or not and maybe even sometimes especially when we made mistakes. He was of course always ready to reflect and laugh and as I looked at photos of him last night I was reminded that he had one particularly kind eye and one particularly steely eye. Did you see that too?

I’ve got a million stories and lovely memories but I suppose over and above the personal friendship, the mentoring, the everyday support he provided, Peter was a great campaigner.  In fact, I would say he was arguably one of the great campaigners of the environmental or indeed any other movement.

Others had more external charisma perhaps and even brighter fires burning, but few, if any, had his strategic skills, his inexorable logic, his systematic application. And he didn’t try to do it (all) himself by any means; he let us build an organisation that across the piece was extraordinarily confident, well-tooled and able. The sum of the parts was a mighty thing as he knew it could be and he was its stealthy, assured source and coil spring.

And look what he/we did! Of course we were part of an immense and hugely talented international organisation with outstanding values, a fearlessness and a hard-earned brand to die for. But with this fantastic foundation Peter shaped and led a programme of work that changed the world and gave birth to the modern environmental movement. Let’s remember that time for a moment – our time. The Montreal Protocol (actions against ICI, ‘sorry grandpa’); the North Sea campaign; Acid Rain; major actions on Sellafield and against BNFL that almost killed the nuclear industry in this country; one of the world’s first major Global Warming campaigns; nuclear free seas…The launch of the new Rainbow Warrior. The reinforcement and amplification of the most compelling brand in the environmental world. We grew the Greenpeace membership from 40,000 to nearly 400,000 in four years, giving us immense influence; created the Greenpeace Environmental Trust.

These and much more created the imperative, the space and the popular support for political action. They released the forces that caused better businesses to change their policies, culture and behaviours. They led to the Earth Summit, the IPCC and COP…They gave rise to a thousand, a million kindred campaigns and actions and organisations…

And this was Peter. He was its locus, its forcefield.

You have lost a great friend, I a mentor. Professionally my relationship with Peter was the most inspiring and enlightening of my life. I became a different, better person. And after last night’s news when I look back to 32 years ago I can remember that period now – almost all of it – as vividly as if it was yesterday.

I hope you are coping and finding solace. It would be great to share some grief, reminisce and have a laugh at some point soon.

My very best wishes

Jonathan