News & Views » Editor's Note

Ogden the Great

Georgia's greatest environmentalist?



When an eightysomething judge from South Georgia tells you over a couple of beers he's packing heat and whips out a .357 revolver, you take him seriously.

Ogden Doremus talked big and a mile a minute. But he backed it up with a life of action, and just about everything I ever heard him say was interesting.

Doremus, who died last week, may have been Georgia's greatest environmentalist. How appropriate that he would have turned 86 on April 23 – the day after Earth Day.

In 1970, he was the force behind the state's landmark Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. A few years later, he helped found the Georgia Conservancy. And in 1991, he co-founded the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest, which, under his tutelage, has scored major legal victories for the state's land, air and water. All the while, the former World War II pilot was an influential southeast Georgia attorney and for 20 years a State Court judge in Metter.

How did he achieve all that? For one thing, he was smart as hell. For another, anybody who met him recognized that he was the real deal – a cantankerous but fun-loving native Georgian who was at once authentic and savvy.

The combination won him allies in high places. In the 1950s, still living in his native Atlanta, Doremus was a silk-stocking lawyer who represented insurance companies in lawsuits before rural juries. As best I remember, he told me that two cousins from Haralson County were the only attorneys consistently to get the better of him. The respected adversaries became useful friends much later – especially when one of them, Tom Murphy, became speaker of the Georgia House.

It tells you something about the soft side of old-time Georgia politics that the conservative, "pro-bidness" speaker appointed an unabashed environmental radical to state panels and listened to his advice on issues ranging from air pollution to toxic waste to water shortages. We'd be lucky if the smugly self-righteous "conservatives" who now run Georgia had the wisdom to listen occasionally to people with a different point of view. Doremus' perspective and the savvy with which he imparted it helped at least to moderate the relentless onslaught of developers, utilities, road builders and other special interests in a state corrupted by their excess influence.

Thank you, Ogden. Thanks for small things, like the chance to dedicate this week's Green Guide to your memory. But thanks especially for the big things, like making Georgia a much better place than it would have been without you.

Add a comment