Blog: The Great Lakes Lose a Dear Friend

Posted by John Jackson, CELA Board Member on October 29, 2019

It is with great memories and deep appreciation of her work for the Great Lakes for almost 60 years, that I tell you of Lee Botts death earlier this month at age 91.

Lee has been an inspiration for so many of us who were lucky enough to know her, and a mentor for many of our current Great Lakes activists. Lee was always outspoken, always had deep knowledge to support her outspokenness, and never hesitated to push at whatever level necessary to protect and enhance the Great Lakes system. Lee was always searching for solutions and pushing for and working on implementation of those solutions. She always had a good sense of the politics of the situation and of how to work the political system. And she made time to talk with and support young activists.

During her life she was involved in local issues in North West Indiana and Illinois. But she was also a leader Great Lakes-wide. She clearly articulated the need to work ecosystem-wide for the Great Lakes: locally, state-wide, federally, and binationally at the Canada-US level.

She was one of the original advocates for the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (signed in 1972), and was a founder of the Lake Michigan Federation (now the Alliance for the Great Lakes). I remember her at founding meetings of Great Lakes United in the centre of the debate about the role and structure of Great Lakes United. She was always a supporter of GLU. Lee always shared her home in the dunes with activist groups for retreats and planning sessions. She was always an amazing host.

I remember times standing on the south shore of Lake Michigan in the Indiana Dunes – within sight of her home – and seeing massive industrial plants and their smokestacks looming at each end of the dunes. And then sitting in her house at a meeting where she had pulled together people who had led the successful struggle to stop industrial development from encroaching further into the dunes. Seeing those industrial hulks at both ends of the dunes makes me ever thankful for the people who fought to save the dunes and inspires me to realize we can do it too.

In her later years, Lee focused on developing the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Centre, which focuses on environmental education for students and teachers, including providing for overnight camps for the students and teachers in the Dunes. Lee was very proud of this.

May we continue to be inspired by Lee’s contributions to the Great Lakes and this home we share. The effects of the changes she worked so hard for in so many different ways have had many positive impacts on the Lakes and our political system. These changes will have enduring impacts long after we and our memories are gone.

To learn more about Lee’s amazing contributions, read this article from the New York Times that gives an amazingly thorough and very interesting story of her life.