As part of its commemorations to mark the 180th anniversary of John Muir’s birth, the John Muir Trust has bestowed a rare honour on a veteran American environmental campaigner
Born in Dunbar on 21 April 1838, Muir emigrated with his family ten years later to the United States, where he rose to become a household name. In 1892, the explorer, scientist, writer and campaigner became the founding President of the Sierra Club, which has since grown to become one of the biggest and most influential environmental organisations in the world.
At a ceremony in the Dunbar Townhouse on the afternoon of Saturday 21 April, Larry Downing, who served two terms as President of the Sierra Club from 1986-1988, became the fifth recipient of the John Muir Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the four who previously received the honour were legendary Scots climber and broadcaster Tom Weir, and English mountaineer Doug Scott.
The honour is in recognition of Downing’s outstanding contribution over half a century to the protection and conservation of wild places in both the United States and Scotland.
Peter Pearson, Chair of the John Muir Trust said: “As a charity that stands up for wild nature, the challenges we face today are both local and global, and Larry Downing is just the fifth person – and the first outside Britain – to be recognised with this prestigious award.
“For more than half a century, he has been an inspirational figure in the international environmental movement. Like John Muir, he is a superb communicator who has devoted his life to advocating and campaigning for the protection and cherishing of wild places in his native United States and worldwide.
“Larry has strong connections with Scotland and has been a great long-time friend of the John Muir Trust, serving as a Trustee for eight years and as Honorary Adviser for ten years. He has been an excellent confidante, friend and adviser, bringing an international dimension to our discussions and helping to keep us true to the message and inspiration of John Muir.”
Downing is widely regarded as having been one of the Sierra Club’s most effective presidents since John Muir himself, overseeing a spectacular increase in the movement’s membership and influence.
Among his many achievements, during a brief spell working as a research chemist for the multinational corporation Procter & Gamble, he replaced the use of petrochemicals with water in liquid cleaning products.
Meanwhile, the Trust celebrated John Muir’s birthday with a number of other initiatives over the weekend, many centred on Highland Perthshire where the charity is based.
On Saturday, poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn hosted a free walk on Dun Coillich hill in the shadow of Schiehallion. On the following day, international artist Karen Rann, JMT land manager Liz Auty, and Emma O’Shea from Walk Scotland led a guided walk on Schiehallion itself, focusing on the invention of contour lines by mathematician Charles Hutton.
The walks were part of the Lines of Attraction mini-festival at Schiehallion, supported by Creative Scotland. The festival also includes Four Views of Schiehallion and Live Music in Pitlochry Festival Theaure (Saturday 28 April, 1pm). Reserve a free place for this talk here.
Liz Auty, the John Muir Trust’s Schiehallion Land Manager said: “We are delighted to be celebrating the 180th birthday of one of Scotland’s great international heroes with these events centred on Schiehallion, supported by such talented artists, poets and musicians.”
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