Tributes

Witnessing history



Paula DiPerna is Executive Vice President of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and President, CCX International. Ms. DiPerna served formerly as President of the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, a major public policy philanthropy based in Chicago, Illinois, known for its innovative grantmaking; and Vice-President for International Affairs of the Cousteau Society, whose President was pioneer and ocean explorer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau:

"I first met Maurice Strong in 1992 in his UN office in New York City, prior to the Rio conference during the busy "run-up" but he did not appear to be running at all. Maurice was an island of calm in the face of the numerous demands he faced. that particular day he seemed focused on counting heads, literally heads of state, that is -- since the rio conference was on its way to being the largest single gathering of world potentates in the history of such gatherings.

On that date, President George Bush Senior of the United States had not yet committed to coming to Rio, but Maurice was confident. In the end, Bush did come, even signing the framework convention on climate change. Maurice pulled off the Rio conference landmark, an event that truly warrants the word for in the end indeed, more global leaders heard his call to convene to face the twin challenges of environment and development than had responded to any such summons before.

Rio came off without any hitches to the eye, itself a cornocupia of styles, demands, needs, goals, objectives, sponsors, supporters, tastes, statements, invectives, posturing, grandstanding, celebrating and happening. Nothing like it had happened before, or has happened since. Thanks to Maurice and his team, and I remember admiring so much at the time, and to this day, the quiet calm but utterly laser-like focus Maurice brought to the task -- one step in front of the other, one hurdle up, one hurdle down.

Maurice is truly deserving of the word "courageous" for he fears not to move. He is a free hand conductor, mastering the vision of what is needed and then letting others play their parts, pulling their excellence from them. He steers, cajoles, critiques, gently, graciously but firmly -- and when he gets what he wants, it is usually for a higher purpose.

So where indeed would any global environmental issue be today if not for his leadership?

It is almost hard to believe in today's instant world that any task can be arduous, and not just happen zip like the touch of the send button.
But every task that Maurice has undertaken to my knowledge has had to be arduous because it was pioneering. inch by inch, year by year, the world has gradually added its voice to his, and begun to put in place the institutions he was the first to conceptualize.

Since Rio, I've been lucky enough to interact with Maurice here and there, and continued to admire his surefooted way-finding, adding value always, pushing the envelope as they say, ruffling feathers now and then, leaving them ruffled if need be, smoothing them over if that is the better part of valor.

One of my best memories of his focus and drive was at a meeting Maurice had pulled together with then President Collor of Brazil, Jacques Cousteau, to whom Maurice had granted the exclusive "all area" access, and me -- convened by Maurice to try to find a way to convince George Bush, who had by then agreed to come to Rio, even to sign the climate change agreement most likely, to also sign the biodiversity convention -- Maurice did not want to leave this gap open if he could avoid it. Collor had fulltime protocol and podium duties at the conference, as did Maurice himself, but they found a few minutes to put heads together. In about 15 of those precious minutes, we had crafted a cogent argument. But Maurice, Collor and Cousteau were due at a lunch hosted by Ted Turner. I offered to type up the letter that President Collor would then sign. which is just what we did. They ate, I typed, and then ambassador Azambuja, then the Brazilian ambassador to the US, came by my makeshift desk to pick up the note for his president to sign. I'm told the letter did then make its way to Laurence Eagleburger, who delivered it personally to President Bush on the tarmac on his stopover in Panama. Bush read the note but still didn't sign the biodiversity convention. Opposition at home was still way too strong. Had we been a day earlier, bush might have been convinced. But the point is that Maurice tried -- he pressed to the very last chance and gave his all.

In this skilled dedication, he has changed the world -- no doubt.

On a personal note, I thank him for his personal courtesies to me, always, and support of the Chicago Climate Exchange as we move through the world, and most recently, for his supreme wisdom and help in China, not to mention hospitality there, Hanna too, his wife, in wild rainstorms and smoggy heat -- helping me feel at home in China where again, Maurice is ahead of his time, changing our times.

I have been able to witness the history Maurice has made. I am humbled and honored as we reflect upon our future: the gift of Maurice's leadership example and the friendship we are all lucky to have in common."