Friday, January 29, 2016

Senator Robert D. Wetmore - author of "Environmental Bill of Rights" - Passes on into History

Senator Robert D. Wetmore

MA Senator Robert D. Wetmore - author of "Environmental Bill of Rights" - Passes on into History

“The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment …”
Robert D. Wetmore

That excerpt is from the “Environmental Bill of Rights,” authored by then state Rep. Wetmore, which became the 97th amendment to the Massachusetts state Constitution. Approved by vote of the citizens of Massachusetts in November 1972, Article 97 became the foundation for a myriad of environmental laws that followed, and in many ways, changed the course of history for the commonwealth.  

Bob Wetmore, who died on January 15, 2016 at 85 years, was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1964 and ran for the Massachusetts Senate in 1976, serving as senator for the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin district through 1996. Whether in the House or Senate, he was known statewide as (D-Barre), a Democrat from Barre.

Born and raised in Gardner, Bob settled in Barre and was a country boy at heart — a lover of the woods and fields and streams, the wildlife, sunlight, moonlight and the smell and sounds of the outdoors. He was deeply rooted in the area, would visit ancestral gravesites in Warwick and had a deep love of history, particularly local history; Daniel Shays was his hero. Shays, a revolutionary soldier and farmer, he was summoned to court for unpaid debts, which he could not pay because he had not been paid for his military service. Shays led a rebellion against injustice, and in his own quiet but determined way, Bob Wetmore, a veteran of the Korean War, did, too.

Wetmore built a reputation on “constituent services,” being there for people of the district in whatever way he could. He was also known as the Sportsmen’s Friend and was honored by clubs and organizations with awards and by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which named Quabbin Reservoir Gate 31, the Robert D. Wetmore Fishing Area.

I served as the senator’s aide at the Statehouse and later as the college liaison for the Mount Wachusett Community College Forest and Wood Products Institute, which he helped create and fund and also served as chair. I witnessed firsthand the dedication and public service he provided to the region and commonwealth.
I was also privy to the work he accomplished throughout his decades-long career. I perused the documents stored in his Statehouse office from the days he co-chaired the “Wetmore/McKinnon Commission,” tasked with stemming the tide of environmental degradation and urban sprawl plaguing the state in the 1960s and ’70s. The result was local, regional and state-wide land use planning initiatives, including the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program.

Lt. Gov. John Kerry at a Wetmore function  campaigning for US Senate
Wetmore was also decades ahead in terms of women’s issues and pay equity. During his tenure, roads, bridges, schools, a courthouse and other infrastructure projects were built. But his crowning achievement was the Environmental Bill of Rights. Bob Wetmore initiated public policy that created environmental safeguards along with protections of our heritage — historic town commons and scenic byways. He created the Special Commission on Forest Management Practices to help oversee the health of forests and wildlife habitat. The list of his accomplishments would fill a book. In short, he was one of the great public policy minds of the 20th century in Massachusetts. His vision was revolutionary, his legacy enduring.

At the age of 82, Wetmore reflected on his life in a poem he wrote for the Millers River Watershed Poetry Contest.

“Going Fishing”
By Robert Wetmore

The milk train ran through Gardner
Past South Royalston headed west to Athol
Echoes of my past as a teen I’d ride my bike
But in the summers getting up at dawn
I’d walk to the train station platform in Gardner
Where you paid a nickel for the men’s room
I’d wait for the milk train
A book bag stuffed with a can
Of worms, fishing gear, sandwich
And canteen slung over my shoulder
Waiting for the train waiting to go fishing
All aboard, seated, a window’s view
Chugging past woods, crossing the Otter River
To the South Royalston Depot
I’d disembark at a stone’s throw
From the Millers River Dam rapid waters
Cool pools, wooded tannin stained, clouded
From the northern reaches of headwaters
Fish pole and bait I’d wait for a nibble then walk
Along the rail road track, sun beating down
As I searched for the perfect spot
Drafted in my twenties, boated to South Korea
With army backpack, boarded trains then back
Home again I grabbed my pole and fishing gear
Rode in my brother’s borrowed car back
To the South Royalston fishing spots now
Choked with pollution run-off from paper mills
Then and there I changed, got into politics
So the rivers might flow clean and pure
And the fish might be worth fishing for

God Bless and keep you, Bob Wetmore. May you rest in peace.

Genevieve Fraser

Bob Wetmore in his 80s at a Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust annual meeting

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