Monday, March 23, 2009

Remembering David Webster

Crain's Cleveland Business, my former employer, was kind enough to publish the following that I wrote about David. It was published today, March 23, 2009.

Cleveland lost one of its rarest resources on Friday, March 13 – a visionary and a leader. The pain caused by the death of David B. Webster at age 46 is indescribable for his family and many friends. But we, at least, have the solace of knowing our lives are much richer thanks to his many gifts as a lawyer, environmentalist, sponsor and friend. Most in the region weren’t as fortunate, and the tragedy of his death is compounded because Cleveland was just about to learn a lot more about David and benefit from his immense skills and leadership.

David believed passionately in both the power of market forces to protect our environment and the power of the law (and lawyers) to help our community prosper. The first passion brought him international recognition for his pioneering work in “retiring” pollution allowances through the organization he founded, the Clean Air Conservancy. I met David early in 1993 while interviewing him for Crain’s Cleveland Business about his then audacious plan to raise money from individuals to buy government issued pollution allowances and retire them, thus preventing industry from using the allowances to pump more pollution into the atmosphere. In the complex system of “cap and trade” pollution markets, David saw that for the first time the public could put a price on clean air and literally pay to stop pollution. To him it was the perfect free market solution to one of society’s most important challenges. “This is most power we’ve ever been given to affect the environment,” he said at the time.

Since then CAC has used that power to prevent more than 7 billion tons of pollution and greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere, and the CAC’s model is now copied by dozens of organizations around the globe.

While our environment benefited from his visionary leadership of CAC, our community was just about to benefit from David’s leadership of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. He had played a key role in merging the two competing associations into one, and he was president-elect of the new association. I considered it an extreme honor when, about six months before the event, David called to make sure I’d be with him on June 19 when he would be sworn in as president of the association. He made that call just a few weeks before receiving his initial cancer diagnosis.

We frequently discussed his plans for making the association a force for positive change in our community. He remembered how he had chosen to return to Cleveland after discovering being a New York City lawyer wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, and he wanted to make sure our law firms did more to address the “brain gain” challenge facing the region. He believed that Cleveland could be a global center for law.

He also believed the legal community could be a more positive force in our political system. He invested countless hours with others to set up a web site to help voters assess the qualifications for judicial candidates in a county where the right last name is often a ticket to the bench. helps us non-lawyers sort through which Gallagher deserves our vote and which one doesn’t. I believe he would have used his position as bar association president to speak out against and clean up the public corruption crippling Cuyahoga County. He would not have tolerated the inexplicable silence on the subject from our civic leadership.

David considered both law and free markets as forces for good in our society. That he found the time to invest his wit and wisdom to both causes while running a successful law firm, raising four children with his wife Beth, and counseling many of his fellow alcoholics in recovery will forever be a source of inspiration and wonderment. We, his legion of friends, owe him more than words can capture. We owe it to him and we owe it to Cleveland to try to fill the vast void created by his death.


TJU said...

David was a good soul, as are you for all you did for him in his final days and after to make sure he was properly remembered. Get some rest.

Karen said...

I worked for CAC (maybe 1995-1999?) while we lived in Oberlin and back here in DC. Dave was a great person and it was truly a joy to work with him . . . so grounded and focused -- no ego. Diane just told me today of his passing . . . and I'm profoundly sad. There seems to be so few honorable people . . . and he was certainly one of the few! Not only Cleveland will miss Dave, but the whole country, whether they know it or not! What an impact he made! Now, what is to become of CAC? Hugs and kisses to Beth and the kids, parents, family, and all his friends (including Diane!) xox k