San Francisco Bay loses one of its most dedicated champions

Sylvia McLaughlin, who passed away last week, co-founded Save the Bay and served on the National Audubon Society Board of Directors.

San Francisco Bay lost one of its great conservation champions last week with the passing of Sylvia McLaughlin, one of the original founders of Save the Bay. McLaughlin, who was also a member of the National Audubon Society Board of Directors from 1970 to 1976, was 99.

Responding to continual plans to fill and pollute San Francisco Bay, McLaughlin in 1961 joined with friends Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick to form the Save San Francisco Bay Association (now Save The Bay). Their initial campaign was to stop the City of Berkeley’s plan to fill in 2,000 acres of San Francisco Bay. The three were deeply motivated by the fear that the bay could turn into little more than a narrow shipping channel if all the various plans to fill the bay came to fruition.

“Sylvia and her friends just wanted to stop the Bay from being destroyed,” said Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “They were so successful that they launched the modern grassroots environmental movement in the Bay Area. We have a cleaner, healthier and more vibrant Bay because of Sylvia’s efforts. Her drive, determination and spark will remain an inspiration to us all.”

More information about McLaughlin's life and accomplishments can be found on Save the Bay's website.

Sylvia McLaughlin, center, with fellow Save the Bay co-founders Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick. Photo: Save the Bay

Dan Taylor, Audubon California’s former executive director, remembers McLaughlin as a passionate advocate for San Francisco Bay.

“She would regale us with stories of what the bay was like before the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which Save the Bay led the creation of,” said Taylor. “I hate to think what San Francisco Bay would have ended up looking like without Sylvia and her dedicated friends.”

Current Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack noted that McLaughlin and others led a major cultural shift in the Bay Area.

"Thanks to these incredible leaders, San Francisco Bay is recognized as an invaluable asset that not only needs to be preserved, but restored to its original glory," McCormack said.

A public memorial service will be held Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 4 pm, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley.

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