A big bear suit farewell hug for Valerie

Valerie’s on the right.

Our friend and colleague Valerie Brown retires this month. She spent 15 years with Trustees for Alaska, first as an intern in 1994, later as a staff attorney, and then as our legal director since 2014.

We will miss her dearly and seek her guidance, perspective and humor in the weeks, months and years to come. Here, as we say “farewell Valerie,” our colleague and legal director, we share our thoughts and stories to send her off with big feelings, big hopes, and forever friendships.

Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney

mentor noun
men·​tor | \ ˈmen-ˌtȯr  , -tər \
2a: a trusted counselor or guide
b: Valerie Brown

Carol Hoover, executive director of the Eyak Preservation Council

Valerie in a kayak in Prince William Sound, 2012.
Valerie paddling in Prince William Sound in 2012.

Dear Valerie,

Thank you from the Eyak Preservation Council. You always listened, advised, and helped! And you went down the Copper River and visited and enjoyed times with us at the Eyak Lake Home! You are WAY fun. We LOVE your ready smile and could always count on you to smile and laugh (even!) when all this downright “c—p” gets thrown at, us, the environmental and social justice community. AND RECENTLY – the referral you gave to EPC regarding the Shepard Point deep water port and road project has finally received a really good chance from Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation. They listened, because of YOU. Make sure you keep smiling and having fun.

Love Carol and all of us at EPC.

Marlyn Twitchell, board vice-chair for Trustees

All I can say is that she first gained my huge respect when as a very young professional she capably served as director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. People in and out of the environmental community have long praised her for her skills as a lawyer — not surprising given her track record advocating for Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife, people, and ways of life. Turns out, she also has a passion for Necco wafers and is very interested in animal cognition — which I think says volumes about her intellect, curiosity about the world, and the respect for others that she brings to her work.  She has definitely made a mark on Trustees and we are forever grateful.  

Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney, Trustees

“Valerie was the most enthusiastic bear-suit wearer I’ve ever come across,” said Suzanne Bostrom, a Trustees attorney. “She wore that bear suit with real pride.”

I have appreciated Valerie’s bluntness since I met her when interviewing for my job. She told me it was interesting to talk with someone coming out of the government who’d actually be interested in working at Trustees because (1) all the other staff attorneys are “died in the wool” greenies and (2) I’d be taking a seriously DRASTIC pay cut. And I thought to myself – I want to work with her.

Most recently we were video chatting and she greeted me by saying “oh good, I’m not the only one who stopped washing their hair!” I appreciate her ability to tell it like it is, in a hilarious way, without even intending it to be direct or funny.

Vicki Clark, executive director, Trustees

Valerie and I were Trustees interns together over 25 years ago. My friendship with Valerie and love for Alaska are on parallel tracks and have grown deeper over time. I have had great adventures with Valerie:

From left to right: Valerie, Vicki and Emy when they were Trustees interns.
  • As an intern, speaking aboard the M/V Greenpeace in Homer, and seeing on TV OJ’s white Bronco being chased on the 405 when we went to get pizza
  • Hiking the Resurrection Trail with our dogs for a week with me teaching Valerie to play Cribbage and her telling me I was always making up new rules
  • Going to McNeil River to see the bears, which is a life-changing experience
  • Scuba diving in far-off places

I have also admired Valerie as a lawyer. She is strategic and tenacious and I always find it hard to win an argument with her! She is also the toughest coach when prepping for oral argument, which is a tremendous skill, and always made me better. I will miss Valerie at work, but I’m so glad we will continue to have adventures!

Peter Van Tuyn, managing partner, Bessenyey & Van Tuyn, LLC

I first knew Valerie as a client, when she was executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and I was at Trustees.  Later she was an intern at Trustees, in the same summer as Vicki.  Needless to say, we got a lot of good work done that summer.  True to her brilliant form, Val followed law school with prestigious clerkships at the 9th Circuit and Alaska Supreme Court, and then went to work for a white shoe firm. 

The Trustees for Alaska gang from the 1990s.
The Trustees for Alaska community in 2003, with Valerie in the back right corner of the image. Photo courtesy of Peter Van Tuyn.

Trustees was financially thin at the time (what’s new?  Please support Trustees!), and while we knew we wanted Val back as a staff attorney, it took some time before we could cobble enough money together to bring on another attorney.  When those stars roughly aligned, I called Val and begged her to come back.  No interview, no promises of wealth or fame, just “please come back to help us do the good hard work in service of the Alaska we love.”  It wasn’t a long chat, and we had her back!

Valerie and Bert used to have a dog named Pogo.  He was clearly devoted to Val, and spent many days over many years at her side in our offices.  They took him in as a rescue, and he was both a sweetheart and a challenge.  Pogo was fearful of the unknown, which he expressed, as so many dogs (and people, it turns out) through barking.  Val educated herself on dog training, and was persistent and compassionate in guiding Pogo to his better self.  My morning greetings from Pogo (Lopo Topo) remain some of my fondest memories of my time at Trustees.

A Trustees celebration at the office in 2019. Valerie is front left, with Katie behind her, then Brook, Suzanne, Ashley, and Maresa. We’ll be physical distancing when toasting her retirement this week!

Smart as a whip, persistent in the face of adversity (and there is plenty of adversity practicing public interest environmental law in Alaska) and always, always, compassionate, Val exemplifies the best of our profession, and the best of our human race.  And when I see a beluga in Cook Inlet, I think of Val, as they never had a better advocate. 

Thank you for your service Val, and I know I am joined by many of your former co-workers and clients in wishing you the very best.

Tom Meacham, board member, Trustees

Valerie Brown, Esq.

I have known Valerie as a lawyer and as a friend for what seems like an age now, but it probably has been only several decades. I have always cherished her level-headed and direct approach to legal issues, whether involving Trustees’ work, or just advice I was seeking on issues or tactics that Val knew a lot about.

There have been so many times that I have worked with or consulted with Val, or sought out her advice on a legal angle or procedural conundrum, that I’ll be darned if I can recall any specific, discrete funny or memorable incident. They all run together in a jumble that make up one’s life in (and with) the law……or perhaps it’s just my aging memory… But I do know that Val was always approachable on any legal or natural resource subject, and you knew that she was giving you advice that was wise, realistic and practical.

Valerie with Katie Strong at the Supreme Court in November 2018.

Val has an enviable ability to not take herself or the world too seriously, and a cutting sense of irony and humor toward those who have earned it. What I have valued most about our long and friendly acquaintance is her willingness to drop what she is doing, to listen completely to the legal angle or problem being described to her, and then to offer some really practical and knowledgeable advice on how to approach or overcome the problem. If she told me she needed to look into it further, or to do a bit of research, I always knew she would get back to me shortly.

Trustees for Alaska will continue to be a dynamic and fun place to practice law, a focal point for dogged, persistent, and cutting-edge environmental law and resource protection — an institution admired and envied by us lawyers who are on its periphery and keep abreast of its challenges and successes. But with Val in retirement from her post as its legal director, Trustees will have to work just a little harder to match the dynamic enthusiasm and deep legal knowledge that she brought to her job, every day.

 So relax, Val, and enjoy your winding-down time!

Best wishes,

Tom Meacham

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