Our extended Appalachian Voices family, and friends all across the country, were deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of our colleague Lenny Kohm at age 74 late last month. Lenny’s great passion, quick wit and forceful eloquence — combined with a disarming genuineness and keen sense of humor — made him unforgettable. Armed with his belief in the power of ordinary people to change the world, he inspired thousands across the country to take time in their lives as mothers, fathers, doctors, electricians, or teachers to stand up for our common natural heritage, from the Arctic to Appalachia. He was — and is — a legend among activists.
Lenny left such an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of so many that it’s impossible to think about his passing without being heartened by his ongoing presence. It was Lenny who believed our movement could make the atrocious practice of mountaintop removal a national issue, and it was Lenny who knew how to do it. Most importantly, his example and instruction taught others how to do it as well. “I’m in the people empowerment business,” he would say.
I think what may have been most inspiring about Lenny in this age of cynicism and well-funded special interests was his abiding belief in democracy and the political power we have as citizens. With his decades of experience, Lenny knew that going toe to toe with giant corporations isn’t easy, but his wisdom on how to do it effectively instilled the confidence and hope that encouraged so many to engage. Lenny knew how to combine great passion with sound planning and organization to make things happen. The progress we’ve made is a testament to the kind of smart, strategic action, driven by our love of people and nature, that Lenny espoused.
Many of us, some from as far away as Alaska, will gather this Saturday near Boone, N.C., for a memorial service. It’s not too late to RSVP here, and if you’d like to honor Lenny with a gift, any funds remaining after the cost of the memorial is covered will be donated to causes he cared about and fought for. A Facebook page has also been set up, where everyone is encouraged to post memories and tributes to the Chief, and all will be posted to a memorial website, where we hope folks will continue to be inspired by Lenny’s passion and mission for years to come.
During his time in the Arctic, the native Gwich’in people were so grateful for Lenny’s work with their tribe that they made him an honorary chief. And the name stuck. Ultimately, we will continue to honor Lenny’s spirit and wisdom by embracing our power to change big things through the kind of passion, thoughtfulness, humility and dedication he exemplified.
Here’s to the Chief and his powerful legacy!