Remembering Kevin Starr
Rita Schmidt Sudman remembers Starr and his connection to California water and the Water Education Foundation
To the many tributes to Kevin Starr, I add mine.
So many of us, his associates and friends, want to express our thoughts on the exuberance and talent we witnessed in the larger-than-life man.
I first met Kevin in the early ‘90s when he was state librarian. I needed some help understanding California water in a larger context. Kevin generously gave the Water Education Foundation and me that larger picture many times. He never wavered in his belief that Californians were a unique people born from that pioneering spirit of moving West to a promised and golden land. He knew and acknowledged the warts of California history but he found the moments of greatness and courage, and he gave them to us to inspire and emulate.
In his foreword to the Foundation’s book written by Sue McClurg in 2000, Water & the Shaping of California, Kevin traced the power of water as the progenitor and sustainer of all life. From the Tigris-Euphrates Valley all the way to the birth of California, water was the mother of all civilized invention, Kevin wrote. Nowhere is this power of water more evident than in California. He drew the line from the Gold Rush to the rise of the state’s great agriculture to the technology of reservoirs and aqueducts. This, in turn, led to prosperous cities with abundant year-round verdant gardens, often the envy of the nation. He believed California’s creation through water leads us to understand something very important regarding the larger American experiment.
Through the years when there was a public event involving water issues, Kevin was always available to set a tone. I saw him interact with many politicians and governors from Pat Brown to Jerry Brown. He could and did communicate well with all sides of the political spectrum. He connected with these people and their families. He looked for the best in people and he made me want to be a better person. He was firm in his Catholic faith, having been rescued by Jesuits from a hardscrabble childhood. We shared that Catholic background and he encouraged me to find the best in the church and use it in my own life. I remembered his advice.
I’m glad Kevin lived to see the latest great California drought. As he wrote in the 2016 book I co-authored with Stephanie Taylor, “Many were predicting that California was over, finished, hasta la vista! Not so. Not for now at least.” In the introduction to our book, Water: More or Less, he also wrote that the latest drought is offering California one final opportunity to reinvent itself – in part through reformed water usage – and thus be able to maintain its viability as a nation state. He believed nothing less than the nation itself depends in part on the outcome of how Californians reinvent themselves again through water.
He now joins those he wrote about – the giants of California history.