Martha Kostuch: Hero

In the fall of 2001, I attended my first Alberta Environmental Network (AEN) Annual General Meeting. There was a discussion going on when I first arrived. A panel of people were sitting at the front answering questions.

One of those people was a short, plain-looking lady. When she first started talking, I kind of rolled my eyes. Another wacko (hey, I was younger then). I hadn't had good experiences with people who were involved in Alberta's environmental scene up to that point. The reaction lasted about 30 seconds.

It didn't take long to realize that she was the most respected person in the room. She delivered opinions and advice at rapid fire speed, without a second of hesitancy. When informing the room about how she thought a problem should be handled, there was a hardness in her voice. It was born out of fierce intellect and wisdom. I left that day in awe of this lady, and with a new sense of hope that we had someone like her on our side.

To me, Martha was the epitome of courage and strength. She went up against the powerful, moneyed interests in this province without ever seeming to doubt herself for a moment.

I once heard her tell a story about a neighbour in her home town of Rocky Mountain House who had illegally set up some type of sawmill or shop. The sound of the activity was keeping her up at night, so she phoned someone on city council to complain. For some reason they weren't interested in enforcing their own law (happens all the time around these parts), so that night she took her sleeping bag and camped out in city hall until they did something about it! That's the kind of person she was - the vast majority of us would never have the courage to stand up so forcefully for something, even though we knew it was the right thing.

I think that all truly great leaders - people like Nelson Mandela and Jane Goodall - have an enormous capacity for love and empathy. Martha had an amazing ability to treat people with respect even though she felt that they were in the wrong. I looked up to her for it a great deal. I can't help but harbor grudges against the people that I think are on the wrong side of the issues, so it's amazing that she was able to treat them so well - to love them, even though she hated their actions.

The loss of Martha Kostuch is a devastating blow to Alberta. It's softened only by the fact that so many people will draw courage and wisdom from having known her, even just a little bit.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Martha Kostuch, 1949 - 2008.

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