Remembering Ed Easton, ICL’s founding Executive Director

September 10, 2019

When I learn that significant loved ones or mentors have died, it often feels like a very large tree has fallen in the forest, creating a gaping hole in my forest canopy.  When I learned that the Institute for Conservation Leadership’s founding executive director, Ed Easton, had recently died, I felt that in a very big way.

Ed held many important roles in his life – husband, father, architect, Sierra Club leader, writer, local conservation leader, city council member and mayor.  I knew him as the founding executive director of the Institute for Conservation Leadership (ICL), a concept created in the late 1980’s as a project within the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to build the capacity of a fast-growing locally-based conservation community.  As the director of NWF’s leadership program, Ed had broad experience across the country with NWF’s state affiliates, and he eagerly shared his wisdom and practices with others working on environmental and conservation issues through ICL.

Ed enthusiastically led our small team to conceive and deliver ICL’s early programs and services, and to become an independent nonprofit in 1990.  He had a vision for leadership that created forward-action, engagement, connection, and shared ownership across the organization or collaboration.  That vision has been enduring, and those values are still firmly imbedded in ICL’s work today.

Ed had a deep and intuitive understanding of leadership, organizations and the challenge of collaborating with others.  He taught many of us about the value of creating a group that owned the mission and did the work, rather than just doing things ourselves.  One his greatest gifts to ICL’s foundational efforts included The Six Principles for Successful Voluntary Organizations which he wrote and used first with NWF affiliates, and then with the broader set of groups ICL served.

The brilliance of the Six Principles was that the tool provided core truths and a structured set of questions.  This allowed the work of learning, reflection and self-assessment to be done by the leaders gathered at the workshop.  While Ed could spin amazing stories and could easily hold the group’s attention for long periods, he knew that real learning and change happened when leaders did their own reflections and discovered their own truth.

While I have many wonderful memories of our work together, I will always treasure our collaboration in creating ICL’s early Individual Leadership Program.  This 7-day immersive learning laboratory was Ed’s brain child.  I remember the twinkle in his eye when he started imagining what might happen when leaders were equipped with self-awareness and confidence, along with core skills in communication, fundraising, and community engagement.  Over a 5-year period, ICL offered the Individual Leadership Program to over 120 leaders – leaders who can still attest to the transformation and magic that happened in those powerful learning cohorts envisioned and led by Ed.

As a good architect, Ed had both a vision of the grand design for ICL, and the practical wisdom to create a sound structural design.  As ICL’s founder, Ed Easton gave both vision and an amazing foundation and frame to ICL’s creative programs.  And, as a mentor he consistently gave me so much –responsibility, encouragement, spot-on suggestions and affirmation – as we worked together, and then in regular correspondence across the miles and years.  For all he gave us, we are so very grateful.

The world is a much better place because of Ed Easton.  Our hearts grieve with all his family and friends and colleagues, and especially with his wife Ky, and sons Eddie and Will and their families.  We know Ed’s vision and spirit will live on in all of our shared work for healthy communities and healthy planet.

By: Dianne Russell

Ed Easton Memorial


2 thoughts on “Remembering Ed Easton, ICL’s founding Executive Director”

  1. He was a special guy. I never met him but his articles on Leadership were excellent! I saved a few of them for years . I wish someone would publish those articles so that I would have them all.

    Marcia Bansley in Atlanta Georgia

    PS The Institute on Conservation Leadership has been a major influence on my life.

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