We lost a dear member of the North Carolina Coastal Federation family on March 20 when our former board president Dick Bierly passed away at age 86 at home peacefully in his sleep.
Dick became part of our work to protect and restore the coast back in the early 1990s when he learned firsthand that wise management of coastal resources simply doesn’t just happen without public education and engagement. He retired with his wife Mary to Carteret County after a highly successful career as a business executive. He recounted many times how he helped IBM locate in North Carolina back when the Research Triangle Park was more of a concept than a reality.
It’s hard to believe that nearly 30 years has passed since Dick first became involved with the federation’s work. He came to us because he and his neighborhood feared that there would be significant negative environmental impacts from a proposed nearby waterfront development. Dick quickly transitioned from someone asking us for help to becoming an advocate for sound coastal management in his own right. He read environmental laws and regulations, constantly attended all kinds of meetings, and in typical Dick fashion reached out to all kinds of people from all walks of life for guidance, support and for their leadership.
Over time, Dick used his newfound knowledge and interests in coastal management to become one of our leading environmental advocates for our entire coast. He joined the federation’s board of directors and soon rose into our leadership. Because of his extensive corporate experience, he skillfully played the role of a board member with professionalism. He shared his considerable business knowledge and connections while not getting into the middle of how the staff at the federation does its jobs.
It surprised many people who are engaged in environmental causes that Dick was a hardcore registered Republican. He saw no conflict between being a Republican and an environmentalist. In fact, he called out elected officials from all political parties when he thought their votes and policies were not supportive of good environmental management. He viewed environmental protection as a sound business practice that should be a bipartisan cause. Dick was constantly challenging all of us to put aside our stereotypes and preconceived notions and to find ways to reduce the political polarization that results in little enlightened public policy accomplishments these days.
Over the last few months, Dick’s health suffered from a series of cascading problems that forced him to step back from his active engagement in our work. Even though he was largely confined to home, his mind and attention remained attentive to our work, and he continued to offer sound ideas and advice.
In just the past few weeks, he insisted that we let people know just how much investment that the federation makes each year in our coastal economy. He had us estimate the amount of money we spend each year with local vendors and contractors to restore our coastal habitats and how millions of dollars of expenditures are a significant economic benefit for the coast in terms of supporting jobs and commerce. We rolled out these numbers last week in meetings with economic developers and business leaders whom Dick helped to engage in supporting the federation’s work. He sought out their help to convince state lawmakers that investing in restoring the coastal environment is an economic development strategy for our coast.
I last visited with Dick two days before he died. He could have spent our time together focused on his health challenges, but instead he directed the conversation toward discussing the work of the federation and what opportunities lie ahead. He even made some plans for what he could do to continue to help us reach out to people whom he believed needed to get engaged in our work.
It’s very sad to have lost such an important member of the federation’s family. Dick was a lot more than a professional associate to all of us here at the federation. Simply put, he was our friend. Over the years, we have attended his birthday parties, gotten to know his kids, grieved with him when he lost his wife to cancer, spent family vacation time together, and even helped him deliver Santa Claus on his boat to the Beaufort waterfront. For me personally, Dick became my own surrogate father in many respects.
Dick’s passing reminds us that our time on earth is limited. He inspires us through the way he lived his life to make every day count as much as possible. Dick lived a full life, and during the time that I knew him he worked hard to make every day worth living.
It’s a wonderful privilege that Dick was my friend. He leaves an enduring legacy through his life’s accomplishments. He certainly left a lasting beneficial impact on the federation and everyone who works here. We will all miss him tremendously.