Remembering an environmental hero

In the summer of 2003, I flew into Charleston, West Virginia, rented a car and drove deep into the state's mountain "hollows," deep green valleys where the land -- and the people who lived on it -- were badly scarred by mountaintop removal mining. I met people who had been barred from visiting their family cemeteries -- now on mining company land; people with cracks in their walls and coal dust blanketing their homes due to nearby mining operations; and disabled former miners who said they would rather risk their lives underground each day than let their families and homes be subjected to the dangers of mountaintop removal.

My guide through this then-unfamiliar world was Judy Bonds, a former Pizza Hut waitress turned environmental activist who was one of the leaders of the grassroots opposition in the area to mountaintop removal mining, a campaign that was at the time largely a regional one, but today has become a national cause. I profiled her and her work for Sierra magazine, and have remained moved by my experience in West Virginia ever since.

This morning, I woke up to learn that Judy had lost her battle with cancer. A memorial will be held for her Jan. 15 at a location yet to be determined, but the online tributes are already pouring in. Rest in peace, Judy. May your fight continue.

Read my profile of Judy Bonds, "Dethroning King Coal," in the November/December 2003 issue of Sierra magazine.