In memory of James Gormley

james-gormley1.jpgThroughout its history, Greenpeace has depended on the passion, vision and courage of its volunteers. Our work relies on the people who care so deeply and share such a strong love of this beautiful planet that they are willing to put themselves on the frontline of environmental issues the world over.

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of one such activist, James Gormley. For many years, James played a central role in our Melbourne local group and activist network. He was one of over 200 people who were tragically killed when bushfires swept through rural Victoria on 7 February 2009. He died along with his girlfriend, Julie.

James was a tireless activist who worked to protect our food from the threat of genetic engineering, and to create the shift to a renewable energy future that we so desperately need if we are to avoid runaway climate change. He was equally comfortable wearing a suit in a lobbying meeting, out on the street talking to people about the latest campaign, or in Greenpeace overalls.

James was the kind of person whose passion and enthusiasm allowed him to win over the toughest audience and to see the positive in any situation. He had a cheeky laugh and a schoolboy grin that would light up his face at the first mention of a Greenpeace action.

I remember him calmly boarding the Despina shortly after it docked at the Port of Melbourne carrying a cargo of genetically engineered soy, before he and his fellow activists climbed into the crane towers to peacefully prevent the unloading of the unwanted cargo. I remember visiting the CEOs of some of Australia’s biggest food companies with James at my side, confident that he’d ask the probing questions that would help shift their buying policies to GE-free.

And I can imagine James at an information stall, talking passionately to people about climate change. He’d tell them how, if we don’t act now, we’ll face an uncertain future of more frequent and intense droughts, storms, floods and, yes, bushfires.

And, if fate hadn’t been so cruel, I could imagine James standing up to say that what we witnessed in Victoria earlier this month was no ordinary occurrence, but the fires of climate change, and a terrifying window into life on a warming planet.

It’s people like James Gormley that give us all hope for a better future. His passion, integrity and courage will be deeply missed.

If you knew James, please consider leaving a comment in tribute.

John Hepburn
Climate change campaign co-ordinator
Greenpeace Australia Pacific

  • Julien Vincent

    John – thanks for posting this tribute as it has helped some thoughts flow that I’ve been wanting to express.

    I met James in 2006, while I was interning for Greenpeace, a 4-month compressed experience of life in the campaigning world. The difference between successful work and no work at all usually relied on the amazing activists in the Melbourne local group, of which James was an important part.

    James came at everything he did with a smile, a positive approach and an enthusiasm that rubbed off on those around him. Even at the end of a long day on a stall or calling people to encourage them to contact their MP about climate change, he threw himself into the next conversation or interaction thinking about the line that would work best and beaming a smile that you couldn’t help be disarmed by. Mucking in to do the really uncomfortable work was no problem either – when it was time to drag out the big clunky wind turbine costume, who would obligingly wear it? Yep.

    One of my fondest moments at Greenpeace was the Walk Against Warming in ‘06, which depended on hundreds of volunteers to build the event and make it the success it was. I cannot forget the effort James made to get flyers out the door, spread the word about the event and do whatever was required on the day to make it run smoothly – again, that unrelenting effort is the difference and will be if we are to succeed in overcoming the environmental challenges we face.

    Of course James’ life was too short. But I take heart form the fact that (trying not to descend into cliché too much) he loved life. The pleasure taken from simple interactions with people – the pleasure taken from just being! – makes me glad that such a deserving person took so much pleasure from life.

    I once found myself dressed as a cow – as you do – and holding a banner in a genetic engineering protest. At the other end of the banner was another cow, James, who kept spirits high by trying to come up with the funniest bovine-related pun to attract the attention of the next passer by (like it was needed).

    James, you continue to play a big role in making my activist experience. This work, these issues, they aren’t easy and sometimes it’s hard to cope with their enormity. But you didn’t just exude your positive energy and spirit and let it dissipate into the atmosphere – it is in all of us who have met you and helps us get up day after day and keep going. Thank you so much.

    To James’ family and close friends, I am very sorry for your loss. I’m also jealous that you got to spend so much more time with James! And also to Julie’s family and friends, my thoughts are with you.

    Julien

  • Cathy Gibson

    I met James in 2000, whilst fundraising for Greenpeace and involved in the local group.
    He was a key member of the group. The one who always brought the mood up, was keen to do everything and kept the team focused and spirits high! Always there for beer afterwards – which after working 40 hours a week fundraising was the main reason I went!!
    James ended up being a house mate in 2007 and by 2008 I was also working with him at Monash Uni.
    Although I lived and worked with him, I still wanted to socialise and hang out. He was a good friend and fantastic listener. He always made me feel good about myself, and believed in my ability to succeed even when I lost my way.
    James championed the sustainable transport cause for Monash University.
    This saw hundreds of staff and students participating in the Sustainable Transport Day in 2008
    The development of an innovative share bike scheme launched in February this year.
    Other successes include
    Improving bike access and bike security across campus.
    Encouraging staff and students to Carpool or use public transport.
    Introducing sustainable transport for ground staff including looking into the use of pedal power and electric vehicles. (Both will be in-use by the end of this year)
    He will be remembered for his ability to win people over with positive enthusiasm and entertaining stories. His deep commitment to environmental issues, in particular climate change gave us all hope for a better future. The loss of James in this terrible climatic disaster has deepened my resolve to work to reduce our environmental impact.
    I know the loss of James has hit every one extremely hard. He touched many people and formed strong connections quickly, because he had an open heart and always saw the best in people. His faith and support towards his colleagues and friends was unwavering.
    James’s passion, integrity and friendship will be deeply missed.
    Cathy

  • Iain Murray

    Thanks to John, Julian and Cathy for sharing their memories of our good mate, Jimmy.

    I first encountered James whilst working as a Greenpeace fundraiser in early 2001. Having practically grabbed the membership form from the hands of my startled colleague and signed up for a generous donation, he’d demanded to know what else he could do to help. As luck would have it, Greenpeace had recently relaunched its Melbourne volunteer group, and we were on the lookout for volunteers.

    James’ induction into Greenpeace made a lasting impression. At his first meeting, he was introduced to veteran activists’ Henk Haazen and Bunny McDiarmid aboard their yacht, Tiama. The next day he was roped into high-speed inflatable boat training with the inimitable Stuart Lennox.

    I remember cautioning him not to expect the same level of excitement at every meeting, but he was hooked. From then on he never failed to raise the expectations of new volunteers with tales of his early adventures on the perilous waters of Port Phillip Bay.

    Before James erupted onto the scene, the Melbourne Local Group was puttering along well enough, like an inflatable zodiac boat on half throttle. His infectious enthusiasm, sheer drive and sense of fun kicked the group into high gear.

    In his essay, “Active Happiness”, Wollongong-based activist and academic Brian Martin asks: “Did you hear about the activist who was filled with such a sense of fun and excitement that everyone loved being around her and who, with her laugh and a zany manner, could win over critics? Well, you probably didn’t. There aren’t many like that.”

    Anyone who shared a road trip, weekend training retreat or post-meeting beer with James will attest that he was a card-carrying member of that all too rare breed. A gifted organiser, he understood that the only way to change the world is to have so much fun while you’re doing it that no-one wants to be left out of the revolution.

    In video footage of his first nonviolent direct action, Jimmy can be seen laughing and joking with police and hard-hatted plant workers alike. I don’t know if they were expecting to be harangued by an aggressive ideologue rather than kept in stitches by an epic dinner party story, but if so, they were talking to the wrong guy.

    James’ relentless positivity, inspired hilarity and habit of praising others both to their faces and behind their backs lifted the mood of every meeting. It’s no accident that the friendships formed between those of us who were part of the Melbourne Local Group in James’ time have persisted far beyond the period that we were directly involved.

    He was a skilled and confident public speaker, a persistent lobbyist and the author of scores of carefully honed letters to the editor. His grasp of and commitment to Greenpeace campaigns – climate change and energy in particular – was built on a solid foundation of knowledge acquired through a voracious reading habit, and his bulldust detector was second to none.

    I had the pleasure of working with James in the lead-up to the 2004 Federal Election, when he had the unenviable task of convincing Greenpeace volunteers more familiar with radical direct action that letter writing and lobbying were arts worth their learning. It’s hard to imagine now that back then we lived in a country that refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, where neither major political party supported the notion of deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and where the deniers of climate change dominated the media debate.

    On his application form to join the Local Group, James wrote: “I am very concerned about climate change, and want to do something about it.” In his last, published letter to The Age newspaper, he concluded: “Since when did Australians swap ‘It’s down to us’ for ‘It’s up to them?’ Taking big action on climate change is in our interests”.

    James, you didn’t just do something about it. You took action in the biggest way that any ordinary person could hope to. For that, and for the gift of having known you, I will always be grateful. My thoughts are with your loving family and friends, and those of Julie.

    Iain

  • Julie F.

    I just learned yesterday that James passed away in the fires. Being in the US, I heard about the raging fires, but it seemed far from home…until now.

    I worked with James at Monash a few years ago and he was definitely one of the favorite people I met during my time in Australia. I love where John said he had “a cheeky laugh and a schoolboy grin” as that is exactly how I remember him, too.

    I took too long to try to send a quick hello, and so I learned from his coworker what had occurred. It is very hard to believe and is just so tragic.

    What a sad and horrible loss for both his family and friends and for those of his girlfriend, Julie. James taught me a lot about being a “greenie” during my stay in Melbourne and he was an overall great person with an infectious grin and lots of love and passion for what he did. I learned a lot from him and will always remember what a great guy he was and the fun memories we shared attempting to teach me the Australian accent and slang. He will definitely be missed.

  • Yvonne D

    James was a total inspiration and a wonderful co-ordinator
    His presence on the Despina made the cold winds seems less cold
    and the lonely tower less lonely

    I hope james is watching down on us now and can smile like he did in real life

    I hope that james encounters less “clusterf***s” in passing than he did on this planet

    James memory lives long after his passing.

    His enthusiasm and humour was second to none
    and he was always there to give words of guidance and listen.

    He is sadly missed even now months after his passing
    xo Rest in peace James

  • Dear All,
    Although we shared the same name and many similar ideological viewpoints, I never had the privilege of meeting “the Greenpeace James Gormley,” although I certainly wish we could have met.
    As Citizens for Health does deal with GMOs and food and water safety issues as well, I would appreciate it if Greenpeace could keep me (and us) updated on any opportunities for global cooperation between our non-profit organizations.
    Many thanks.
    James J. Gormley
    Citizens for Health