Dan McDermott: Farewell to an Environmental Hero

TEA’s Executive Director, Franz Hartmann, reflects on the life and legacy of lifelong environmentalist Dan McDermott who died on Wednesday, January 4th.

On Wednesday, January 4th, Dan McDermott, Director of the Sierra Club Eastern Canada Chapter, passed away. I first met Dan in the early ‘90s - in the early days of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Dan and I sat on the TEA board for a number of years and spent many hours talking about environmental politics and what TEA, this new organization we were helping create, should look like.

During these early meetings, I soon learned that Dan had a vast amount of experience and an even greater amount of dedication to environmental advocacy. I still vividly remember a conversation we had about workload in the environmental movement - this was in the context of establishing a new policy for how many hours TEA staff should work per week. Dan recounted how in the early days of Greenpeace you worked until you dropped. His words were a warning to us, one that I heed to this day, that being an effective environmentalist means viewing our advocacy work as a marathon, not a sprint. Otherwise, we would burn ourselves out and that would help no one. That important insight led to us creating a work culture at TEA that supports staff to run the marathon and to avoid sprinting as much as possible.

Dan ran the marathon with care and wisdom. While I don’t know all the work milestones of Dan’s life, I do know that he dedicated most of his adult life to environmental advocacy. From working at Greenpeace Canada, to volunteering for TEA, to leading Sierra Club’s fight to protect Ontario’s Greenbelt and curb urban sprawl in the GTHA, Dan showed the rest of us what dedication means.

In the last few years, I had the privilege of once again regularly working with Dan. He and I sat on the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance (OGA) Steering Committee. Over the past 4 years, we spent time together helping guide the OGA to ensure our 100+ member groups were effective in ensuring the Greenbelt not only survived but thrived. And once again, I benefitted from Dan’s vast experience and dedication.

So, you may ask, how does this make Dan a hero?

Heroes, as we know, are admired for their courage, their outstanding achievements, and their noble qualities. And this was Dan McDermott. His courage came from never giving up or giving in to bad environmental policies. His outstanding achievements are his lifetime of advocacy, all the small wins that -over 30 plus years- made Toronto and Ontario a better place. And his noble qualities were evident to anyone who knew Dan. He was a caring person you could always count on and who always put the needs of the planet and those who advocated for the environment first.

Finally, anyone who knew Dan also knew he had a grumpy streak in him. You could always count on Dan to pipe up with the “half is glass empty” perspective while others were celebrating the “half full” perspective. But I think this was Dan’s way of reminding us the marathon hadn’t ended and that there was more work to do.

Dan’s marathon is now done. It was an amazing race that showed the rest of us how much we can accomplish. On behalf of TEA, I want to publicly acknowledge Dan’s accomplishments and wish his friends and family our deepest condolences.

Dan, rest in peace and thank you.