17 May, 2013
In Memory and Gratitude to Bob Cole
I knew Bob Cole for a relatively short time. It was in fact just three years ago, almost to this day that Bob first walked into the EcoPeace offices in Tel Aviv. He came into the meeting with a mission. Without us knowing, he had researched environmental groups that he wanted WRAP, a DC based NGO, to partner with and he had identified EcoPeace as the best means to advance WRAP’s interests on the ground, since WRAP had no representation in the Middle East.
In this first meeting he offered nothing to EcoPeace other than more work and greater responsibilities then we could already take on. Logically we should have politely said thank you but no thank you – you are asking us to take on too much. But then there was something in his sincerity, his determination to make a difference on the ground on the issue. It was clear from the start that, after his family, this was the most important thing that he cared about – advancing Middle East peace, Jewish –Arab understanding. There was something so honest in Bob’s manner that it was just impossible to say no.
And so we started our journey – at first indeed helping WRAP advance its first rainwater harvesting facility. However, progress on one or two projects was not enough for Bob. He wanted to see broader and immediate impact. He had actually said to me that time was not on his side and that he was determined to leave an impact. He had visited a gathering of EcoPeace’s Good Water Neighbors project and saw first hand the Jewish-Arab interaction over water. He visited our EcoFacilities in Jordan and Palestine and he saw the potential for large-scale environmental education.
At the close of his tour he let us at EcoPeace know that he was going to invest his time and energy into making EcoPeace more powerful and EcoPeace’s goals more achievable. Together with Mary Alexander, a close and trusted friend, Bob started an intensive three years of meetings in the Middle East, in DC, NY and LA, countless skype calls and many, many pages of “To Do” lists. Bob was determined, and the “To Do” lists revised every few days over these last three years helped Bob measure his progress. Every meeting, every conversation started with the “To Do” lists – reviewing what had been achieved and adding items now needed to be completed.
There was much progress – meetings at the policy level with State Department officials, staff at the White House and USAID on the political opportunities in moving forward on water; Meetings with foundations, friends and individuals recommended by others to get them on board and to contribute to Good Water Neighbors or the EcoParks. It was Bob’s idea that EcoPeace needed a formalized body of individuals from all over the world to help open doors and help get others on board. Hence the idea of an International Advisory Committee (IAC) was born.
Bob defined the IAC’s terms of reference. He met with his best friends; he met with EcoPeace’s longstanding friends; he met with people recommended by others to join the IAC. Over the next year, Bob succeeded to bring together 14 highly distinguished and capable individuals to form the IAC.
Two weeks prior to the inaugural IAC meeting to be held in London, Bob even flew to London to make sure that all the final arrangements were in place. Just days before the London meeting however Bob received the terrible news related to his health and doctors advised him against any travel.
The IAC meeting took place with Bob joining through Skype. As expected, a long “To Do” list was made for, rather than one individual, now 14 committed volunteers all handpicked by Bob.
Though I only knew Bob for three years, I feel I got to know him well. These were intensive years – full of good memories of Bob hiking the EcoPark in Jordan; of dancing with EcoPeace staff in a restaurant in Bethlehem; of walking up 8 flights of stairs at his law office in DC…with me puffing and octogenarian Bob worried for my health. I will never forget this touching moment when, at the end of a long day of meetings in the field, Bob said to me, “thank you for what you do for my People.” He said it with a tear.
Bob, though not religious, was very proud of his Jewish heritage. ‘My People’ was perhaps referring to the Jewish people but certainly not only. Bob was a humanist that loved all people. His passion was to contribute to Middle East peacemaking through water issues.
Bob will always be remembered in EcoPeace and by the many people that met him in the Middle East as the determined old man – certain in his path – determined to make a difference. Bob made that difference. The many IAC meetings to be held in the months and years ahead will keep his determination alive and continue to turn his vision into a reality.
Our deep condolences from EcoPeace go to Bob’s family and many loved ones. Bob will be dearly missed.
The EcoPeace Family