Leading environmentalist and human rights activist Rebecca Tarbotton, 39, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), has died while vacationing along the west coast of Mexico.
According to RAN, Tarbotton died Wednesday on a beach while vacationing with her husband and friends. The coroner ruled cause of death as asphyxiation from water she accidentally inhaled in while swimming.
"Tarbotton was the first female executive director of RAN, and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men," RAN said press release Friday afternoon. "Under her leadership, RAN was engaged in protecting endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, she helped to design the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: A landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that is set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper."
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The entire RAN news release:
Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and the community that has grown around it for more than 25 years, are mourning the sudden and tragic loss of Executive Director, Rebecca Tarbotton, who died unexpectedly on Wednesday, December 26.
A self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist,” Rebecca Tarbotton (“Becky” to friends and family) was admired by environmentalists and climate change activists for her visionary work protecting forests, pushing the nation to transition to a clean energy economy and defending human rights. She was the first female executive director of RAN and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men.
The RAN staff, her friends and family remember a “force of nature” with an infectious laugh, adventurous spirit, and a heart bursting with love.
“Our hearts are broken. We lost a powerful, transformative leader this week. The Rainforest Action Network was her home, but the world was her stage, and her future was so incredibly bright. We can do nothing more right now than love her, her family, her husband, and her friends and colleagues. We know how much she meant to so many,” said Andre Carothers, Chair of the Board of Directors at Rainforest Action Network.
Under Tarbotton's leadership, RAN achieved tremendous victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Tarbotton helped to architect the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that is set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper.
Tarbotton spent much of her time thinking about how to inspire masses of people to work for transformational social and environmental change, and how to push the country's biggest corporate polluters to reform their ways. As she said during a keynote address in October 2012: "We need to remember that the work of our time is bigger than climate change. We need to be setting our sights higher and deeper. What we're really talking about, if we're honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet…We don't always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it's that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens--and that is where I strive to be."
She took the helm of RAN as Executive Director in August 2010. Prior to that she was the Program Director at RAN for one year and the head of the organization’s Energy and Finance program for two years.
“Becky was an emerging star who was galvanizing an ever-growing movement of people demanding environment and social change. She believed that to protect forests and our communities we must protect our climate, and to protect our climate we must protect the forests,” said Nell Greenberg, spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. “RAN is heartbroken by our loss of Becky, but we are committed to continuing the course that she set for us. Focusing on our core purpose of protecting forests, moving the country off of fossil fuels and defending human rights through bold, effective, and innovative environmental corporate campaigns.”
Tarbotton died on Wednesday on a beach in Mexico north of Puerto Vallarta while vacationing with her husband and friends. The coroner ruled cause of death as asphyxiation from water she breathed in while swimming. She was thirty nine years old.
Tarbotton was born in Vancouver, BC on July, 30, 1973. Her commitment to the environment dates back to her youth. Just after college she interned with the David Suzuki Foundation, working on the first letter from Nobel Laureates warning of the dangers of inaction on global warming.
She is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford; her brothers Jesse and Cameron Tarbotton, and her mother, Mary Tarbotton, of Vancouver, BC. Her ashes will be scattered off of Hornby Island in British Columbia where her family owns a cabin and where she spent much time with family and friends. Public memorial services will be held in San Francisco, CA and in Vancouver. Dates are still to be determined.
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