Grilled: Sheila Sarhangi | Remembering Phillip Berry
Invading the Privacy of the People Who Make the Club Tick
Photo by Dana Edmunds
Name: Sheila Sarhangi
Contribution: Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, Executive Committee, Fundraising Board; author of Honolulu Then and Now
What inspired you to pursue a career in environmental writing? My parents took us camping at least once a month. They were both born and raised in Iran and then came to Southern California—they were exploring this new place, so they inspired this feeling of adventure and exploration in me. My dad had a Ph.D. in horticulture, and he would point out plants and trees and tell me their names, their characteristics, and their function in nature. Understanding the stories behind species gave me an understanding of all the different pieces in an ecosystem. I wanted those stories to be told. I had an environmental column in Honolulu magazine for almost seven years, and I've written about everything from native snails to profiles on biologists to endangered marine animal species and whales.
You also work as a project manager at SeaWeb. What's that? We do strategic communications on marine conservation. We build a bridge between the media and scientists so that stories about the environment will be reported correctly.
Do you have any special hobbies or talents? When I moved to Maui, I started surfing. It's an awesome sport for all ages—everyone's out in the water. You see kids who are 5 years old and people who are in their 70s or 80s who are incredible.
What's your favorite place to surf? I live about five minutes from a surf break called Diamond Head Cliffs. I also hike. That's the great thing about Hawaii: I'm 5 minutes from a surf break and 10 minutes from a rainforest.
If you could be any marine animal, what would you choose? I have a really big love for sea otters, but I don't know if I'd ever want to be one. I don't think it's all cake out there in the ocean. —Ailsa Sachdev
Do you know a Sierra Club volunteer who deserves recognition? Send nominations to email@example.com.
Remembering Phillip Berry
For longtime Sierra Club members, this past autumn fell heavier when former Sierra Club president Phillip Berry died on September 22—the autumnal equinox—after an extended battle with cancer. A lifelong conservationist and a major figure in U.S. environmental law, Berry joined the Sierra Club in 1950 at age 13, after David Brower accepted his application to go on a High Sierra outing despite Berry's young age. Brower, the legendary environmentalist and Sierra Club leader, became an early mentor.
Berry played critical roles as volunteer, board president, and longtime chair of the Club's Litigation Committee. In this latter role, he pioneered the use of environmental legal advocacy and helped to start the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which later became Earthjustice.
In 1969, Berry became the Club's president. His first three-year term spanned some of the most turbulent and important years for both the Club and the U.S. environmental movement; he was elected for a second term in 1991. "In 1969, following David Brower's resignation as executive director, the Sierra Club was at a crossroads," current Club president David Scott says. "Phil Berry provided the vision of an all-encompassing environmental agenda that included everything from wilderness to wildlife, from toxics to fossil fuels. He helped set a course for the Sierra Club that we're still following today."
Berry was a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School and later practiced law with his father at the firm Berry and Berry. "Phil was a towering figure in the field of environmental law," Club legal director Pat Gallagher says. "He was the guiding force behind our legal program from its inception, through landmark cases such as Sierra Club v. Cheney and Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and the phenomenally successful Beyond Coal campaign."
Even when weakened by illness, Berry remained steadfast in his dedication to environmentalism. "I spoke to Phil a few days before his passing," Gallagher says. "Rather than bemoan his fate or interject any sadness into the conversation, he graciously inquired about the health and direction of our legal program. Phil selflessly pledged his support and care for the Club's courtroom advocacy right up to his last breath."
Phillip Berry is survived by his wife, Carla, five sons, and a granddaughter. He left an indelible mark on the Sierra Club, whose board of directors passed a resolution to honor and thank him for his many decades of service. —Eddie Scher
Phillip Berry photo courtesy of Susan Landor Keegin