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Dr. L. Martin Griffin, Jr 

Dr. L. Martin Griffin, Jr., passionate advocate for the natural world, died at home on May 22nd in Belvedere, California, two months shy of his 104th birthday. His long life was dedicated to the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, which he recognized as intrinsic to human health and well-being. Defending coastal wetlands ahead of his time, “Marty” was known as “the doctor with mud on his shoes.”

 

Born July 23rd, 1920, in a cabin on the Ogden River in Utah, Marty grew up with early sensory memories of the cool desert canyon, murmuring waters, and the fragrance of willow, sage, and trout. His father and namesake Loyal Martin taught Marty and his brother Bob to fly fish and to explore the wilderness. His mother Frances taught him to stick with his education and projects, while instilling the importance of family.

 

Marty joined the Boy Scouts when the family moved to Oakland after the Great Depression. He credited his troop leader, “Bugs” Cain, an entomologist, for sparking his desire to study nature. Marty became an Eagle Scout and his famous “knot board” display won the troop competition. He visited the Sierras, Yosemite and Mt. Tamalpais, where he saw for the first time the “sparkling Bolinas Lagoon dotted with white birds.” He also saw his Scout Camp in the Oakland hills sold to developers. As a young man, Marty and a friend hiked the entire length of the newly established John Muir Trail in the High Sierra. His letter to his mother describing their adventures is a family treasure.

 

As an undergrad, Marty studied zoology and botany at UC Berkeley. He worked in the Richmond shipyards before the war and served as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps at the San Francisco Presidio as part of his medical training. He earned his M.D. from Stanford in 1946, where he met and married his first wife, Dr. Mary “Mimi” Murray. Moving to Marin County, they raised four daughters, Linda, Anne, Carol, and Joan. Married 25 years, Mimi and Marty and the girls camped, hiked, swam, and skied. They visited Hawaii in 1959, Canada and Alaska in ’62, and traveled to Europe in ’63 to live for a year in Florence. Their home in Kentfield was a-bustle with Girl Scouts and boyfriends, neighbors, and pets. Marty had a private practice and made house calls, often prescribing walks in nature to his patients. He was a founding doctor of the Ross Valley Medical Clinic, chief of medicine at both Marin General and Ross Hospitals, and was instrumental in the development of The Tamalpais retirement community.

 

In 1957, Marty’s neighbor and patient, the legendary activist Elizabeth Terwilliger, along with the prominent conservationist Caroline Livermore, recruited him to help protect Tiburon’s Richardson Bay from fill and development. The wetlands were saved by a strategic 900-acre purchase, which became the Richardson Bay Audubon Sanctuary. From this experience, Marty learned effective collaborative action, political engagement, and fundraising, to which he added his medical skills of diagnosis and treatment to solve environmental ills.

 

In perhaps “the most important grass-roots conservation effort in the nation” (Harold Gilliam), Marty, as president of the Marin Audubon Society, led the effort to halt a 1961 development plan to turn Highway 1 into a 4-lane freeway, dredge Bolinas Lagoon for a marina, and build large housing tracts on the east side of Tomales Bay. Marty, along with Stan Picher and others, raised the money to buy a 1,000-acre property on Bolinas Lagoon that became the Audubon Canyon Ranch. It was recently renamed the Martin Griffin Preserve of ACR in his honor. The conservationists continued to purchase properties and were able to stop the freeway, protect Bolinas Lagoon and Tomales Bay, and thus create a gateway to what would soon be established as the Point Reyes National Seashore.

 

In 1973, Marty lent his skills to a successful effort to overturn a development-oriented Marin County General Plan and replace it with one that preserved open spaces in West Marin. That same year he ran for and won a seat on the Marin Municipal Water District board. He was the swing vote that put in place a moratorium on water hook-ups for large developments during the drought and water shortage of the mid-’70’s. His critics accused him of trying to control urban growth with water, a charge he didn’t deny as he fought to protect watersheds.

 

Having bought a ranch on the Russian River in 1961, Marty moved to Sonoma County in 1974 and was briefly married to Martha Reeves. He restored the 100-year-old hops-drying barn and turned it into a winery. Hop Kiln Winery, with its award-winning wines and historic buildings, became a Sonoma County landmark. In 1988, Marty married Joyce Welch, a teacher and head of the English Department at Santa Rosa Junior College. As a writer, artist, and activist, Joyce supported Marty’s ongoing conservation efforts. Together they traveled the world and held many events at home, entertaining friends, family, and colleagues.

 

Returning to UC Berkeley at age 50, Marty earned a master’s degree in Public Health. He then worked for 15 years as the public health director at Sonoma State Hospital. As chairman of the state Hepatitis B and AIDS Taskforce, he developed protocols to prevent the spread of Hepatitis B among patients and employees across the State Hospital system, which was then used for AIDS prevention. For this outstanding effort, the state of California presented him with the Gold Medal for Superior Accomplishment. The UC Berkeley School of Public Health has honored his donations and achievements by creating the Martin and Joyce Griffin Terrace Garden in the newly built School of Public Health, celebrating its opening for his 100th birthday.

 

At the same time as running the winery and working at the State Hospital, Marty led a valiant crusade to stop the rampant gravel mining in the Russian River. The mining was destroying the aquifer and riparian ecosystem and endangering the salmon and steelhead. It took many lawsuits and over 30 years to halt the mining. By stopping gravel extraction, the drinking water source for more than 600,000 people in Marin and Sonoma was protected.

 

Over the years, Marty worked with legions of conservation collaborators and founded several groups including the Environmental Forum of Marin, the Environmental Action Committee, the Russian River Task Force, and the Russian Riverkeeper. He also received multiple awards and honors too numerous to mention here. His 1998 book “Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast: The Battles for Audubon Canyon Ranch, Point Reyes and California’s Russian River” is written with wit, drama, and clarity, and has become a vivid testament to nature conservation in the 20th century. This book inspired the film “Rebels with a Cause,” which portrays Marty and numerous environmentalists. The book can be downloaded from his website, www.martingriffin.org.

 

In 1990, Marty and Joyce donated a 44-acre conservation easement along the Middle Reach of the Russian River to the Sonoma Land Trust, establishing the Griffin Riparian Preserve. When the winery sold in 2004, they also gifted a 23-acre easement to the neighboring Bishop’s Ranch, an Episcopalian retreat center, thus preserving the riparian and oak woodland habitats of Griffin Creek and Gina’s Orchard. To honor Marty’s granddaughter Gina, who had died at age 15 of leukemia, Marty and Bishop’s Ranch worked together to create the Gina’s Orchard Watershed Education Program so that school children could experience the wonder of nature along the creek and learn about watersheds, ecology, and land use.

 

Marty and Joyce moved back to Marin, making their home in Belvedere. He picked up the accordion at age 90, learning to play many old favorites by ear and entertaining guests. With countless friends and admirers, there were always people stopping by. Vivacious, humorous, and fun, he credited his long life to taking care of his teeth, swimming, and “good clean living!” He had so many stories to tell, sharing his infectious spirit and enthusiasm for life. Marty never lost sight of the importance of family, hosting many gatherings with relatives from near and far. In his last decade, he could be relied upon to say, “I’m in pretty good shape!” or, “Oh, to be 90 again!” In the final years, with his longtime assistant Jocelyn Knight, Marty remained a fierce environmental advocate, waging a campaign to end commercial ranching operations within the Point Reyes National Seashore.

 

His family wishes to especially thank his daughter, our beloved Joanie, for her many years dedicated to supporting Dad’s medical needs, as well as his social and travel interests. Also, much gratitude to our caregiver team, Veronica, Lynne, Mary, Rigo, and Marty’s friend Jude.

 

Dr. Griffin is survived by his wife, Joyce Griffin, and their little dog, Sophie, of Belvedere; four daughters, Linda Griffin Henke of Salinas, Anne Lynn Oliver (Daniel) of Aptos, Carol Griffin of San Rafael, and Joan Griffin of Novato; five grandchildren, Casey Monaco (Shannon) of Santa Rosa, Steve Markgraf (Leah) of Oakland, Greg Lynn (Molly) of San Francisco, Erika Schiller (Rob) of Oakland, and Kira Kull of Los Angeles; and four great-grandchildren, Tyler and Jordan Monaco of Santa Rosa, and Freddy and Penny Schiller of Oakland. He also leaves his niece, Lori Griffin of Inverness, and nephew, Jim Griffin of Seattle; stepson, Brian Nielsen (Cynthia) of Santa Rosa, and step-granddaughter, Andria Reuting (Nick) of Omaha. He was predeceased by his parents, Loyal and Frances Griffin, former wife, Dr. Mary M. Griffin-Jones, beloved brother Robert Griffin, and dear granddaughter Gina Monaco.

 

Gifts can be given in his name to Audubon Canyon Ranch and/or The Bishop’s Ranch. There will be a public Celebration of Life in the fall, date to be determined, at the Martin Griffin Preserve, Audubon Canyon Ranch.

 

 

 

 

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