Ed Easton: 1936-2019

Our dear friend and colleague Ed Easton died peacefully in his sleep in late August 2019 from complications of a stroke. He will be missed by all those who knew him and worked alongside him in his various endeavors. Nearly his entire life was spent in some form of service to the public interest.

Ed and his family — wife, Ky, and sons, Ed Jr. and Will — arrived in Santa Barbara in 2000 from North Carolina, where he had worked for more than a decade with the National Wildlife Federation and formed strong connections at the Sierra Club. He was at home in the natural world, having grown up spending summers at Camp Timanous, a boys’ camp in a remote area of Maine, where he developed a strong commitment to the beauty and health of the natural world. He translated this awareness into his Gaviota Coast activism.

When Ed retired, he became active in a number of local organizations. We met Ed in early 2004 when he joined the board of directors of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. His application was impressive; his degrees in architecture and political science from Yale provided a wonderful academic background for issues the Conservancy was facing. Equally intriguing was his extensive work history with the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. The man had “chops.”

In 2004, and for the next decade, the Gaviota Coast was inundated with development proposals from Orange County developers and national hedge funds eager to bring inappropriate development onto the rural coast. Ed was involved in opposing all of them. Naples was a 72-house blight imported from Newport Beach that Ed critiqued as an imposition on the rural character of the coast. He dissected the failings of a football-field-long house lurking over the coast from a ridgeline; if it had been built, it would have set an unwanted precedent. He was absolutely tenacious in demanding that two ridgetop mansions be sited and designed so that their massive bulk and scale would not intrude into coastal views.

He did this work with a calm demeanor, rational arguments, and the tenacity of a bulldog. He never raised his voice, except in laughter. He never belittled an opponent. He was always prepared. Ed spoke the language of architecture but could translate it for the layperson; he was listened to and respected. He was a gentleman, in every sense of that word.

Ed was born to an established Greenwich, Connecticut, family that held public service in high esteem; he brought that heritage to our community. He served as a Goleta planning commissioner, Design Review Board member, and city councilmember and mayor. He relished this work, and we rewarded him with the honorific title of “His Honor.”

But there is more. Ed’s work with the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club involved organizational consulting with environmental organizations on the Eastern seaboard. He built on this experience by founding the Institute for Conservation Leadership 25 years ago, and it continues its work today. He refined his understanding of the dynamic life of grassroots organizations, and he shared this understanding with us at the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. At one of the last board meetings that Ed attended, at which we were in the process of selecting our first executive director, he spoke softly about “servant leadership.” That leadership was not about power, but service. Service to an organization, a cause, an ideal. Service to colleagues so their tasks are lightened. Service to the common good that ultimately creates a more just and caring world.

Thank you, Ed.

A celebration of Ed Easton’s life takes place September 28, 2 p.m., at the Live Oak Unitarian Church in Goleta. His family requests that instead of flowers, donations in Ed’s memory be made to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.


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