Marvin Bresler Durning
1929 - 2013
Marvin Bresler Durning passed away on October 16, 2013 after a long struggle with Parkinson's. He leaves his cherished wife Jean; children Susan, Jonathan, and Alan; and eight well-loved grandchildren.
Marvin was born in 1929 in New Orleans, the second son of an Irish-American U.S. Marine, who died in 1940, and a Jewish housewife and later, jewelry retailer. His widowed mother Celia worked hard to send Marvin to Dartmouth, where he graduated summa cum Laude and was valedictorian. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he studied philosophy and traveled Europe.
In the mid-1950s, he served the U.S. Navy as a gunnery officer in the Korean War and as an intelligence officer in Germany. At Yale Law School, from which he graduated in the Order of the Coif, he met and fell in love with Jean Cressey, with whom he married in 1958. In 1959, they settled in Seattle and started a family.
Committed to conservation and public service, Marvin practiced law, taught university classes, and served on boards and commissions. In 1965, President Johnson named him Conservationist of the Year for leading a citizens' drive for land conservation.
In 1977, President Carter appointed Marvin chief of enforcement at EPA. Returning to Seattle in 1981, Marvin advised companies on environmental clean-ups worldwide. He also organized conservation efforts in Puerto Rico.
Over the years, Marvin ran for public offices including Attorney General (1968), Governor (1976), Congress (1977), and County Executive (1990). Although he did not win, he nonetheless left a remarkable legacy. Today, thanks in part to his efforts, all can enjoy many treasured natural places: the Foster Island marsh trail in Seattle, the riverfront park in Wenatchee, Havermale Island Park in Spokane, and parts of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. As a lawyer, he protected the free-flowing Columbia River from a massive airport expansion in Portland. He kept billboards off most sections of Washington's interstate highways. His EPA leadership left millions of Americans breathing cleaner air and drinking purer water, and his legal work prevented or cleaned up toxic contamination in many states and countries.
After his retirement and diagnosis with Parkinson's, he wrote two books: World Turned Upside Down, a history of his Naval intelligence unit, and a memoir Beyond the Baths of All the Western Stars.
Late in life, Marvin told a friend, "I have worked, organized, talked, written, campaigned, sued, won, lost, directed enforcement of . . . federal environmental laws . . . advised and represented citizen groups and international corporations, been honored by awards and ridiculed by opponents, exulted and despaired in this [environmental] cause."
He continued: "If we all looked up at the vault of the sky and saw our earth as the blue-green planetary home of all the life in the universe. If we all looked out at the oceans, the mountains, the rivers and the creatures great and small. If we all looked back on the immense journey humankind has made. If we all looked into the faces of our children and grandchildren, would we not feel awe and reverence for the Creation, understand in our hearts and bones the oneness with the great mystery of life? Would we not change now, while there is still time? Are we not HomoSapiens, wise or thinking man? I wonder and I hope and I pray."
Friends are invited to celebrate Marvin's life at a memorial service on October 26 at 2 pm at Horizon House, 900 University St., Seattle 98101. In lieu of flowers, contributions may go to Sightline Institute or Group Health Foundation.
Published in The Seattle Times on Oct. 20, 2013.