Longtime West Palm Beach environmentalist Leah G. Schad died of heart trouble Wednesday, according to friends who remembered her as a champion of the Everglades.
Schad, an Audubon Society leader and former South Florida water manager, died at Good Samaritan Medical Center after suffering a "massive coronary," fellow activist Cynthia Plockelman said. Plockelman was one of several friends who spent the night spreading the word to environmentalists locally and throughout the state.
Schad was a former board chairwoman of the Florida Audubon Society. She also had been president of the local chapter, the Audubon Society of the Everglades, and was the chapter's treasurer at the time she died.
From 1991 to 1995, Schad also served on the board of the South Florida Water Management District under former Gov. Lawton Chiles, and last year applied unsuccessfully for Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint her again. She ran for the West Palm Beach City Commission in 2002.
The district and the Everglades were seldom far from her thoughts.
Lawyer John Fumero, a former general counsel at the water district, said Schad had sent him an e-mail message at 9:36 a.m. Wednesday asking his opinion about a newspaper article on possible land sales by the district.
"She rose to the level of icon with regards to the Everglades," Fumero said.
"She was a woman who literally devoted her life to caring about the resources of South Florida and the Everglades. Early on, before people even understood we had problems, she was a leader."
Plockelman said she and Schad last had spoken around 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Schad was arranging for people to bring food to the home of veteran Audubon activist Rosa Durando, who recently had been treated at JFK Medical Center after a heart attack.
"Leah was one of the hardest-working people I know, and she never did anything halfway," said Plockelman, a vice president at the Audubon chapter and the water district's former librarian.
Yet Plockelman said Schad clearly had been suffering from ill health in recent months. She said Schad had been treated for breast cancer several years ago.
"She's been in rocky health for a long time, a lot of pain," Plockelman said. During a trip to Fort Lauderdale before Christmas, "She couldn't focus her mind. She was not her usual efficient self. I don't know how to explain it except I've been worried for some length of time."
Schad was a frequent letter-writer to The Palm Beach Post on environmental issues and problems in the city, including the city's perpetual problems with its drinking water. After last fall's fecal coliform outbreak, Schad wrote to question why the city hadn't taken steps to find and fix the problem more quickly.
"Oops ... I forgot; it could be very costly to fix it that way, and all the money is going into the new city hall," Schad wrote in the letter, published Oct. 8. "Every time I think of the commissioners who voted for that building, I want to scream."