By: Wendy Wendlandt, Senior Vice President and Political Director for Environment America and a founder of Environment Washington.
Environment America mourns the passing and celebrates the life of our Washington state director Bruce Speight, who died in Seattle on September 20, following a long illness. He was 45 years old.
To all who knew him, Bruce was easygoing, affable, fun-loving. He was also a consistently effective champion of the environment and the public interest, an organizer who made an outsized impact on clean energy, wildlife preservation, campaign finance reform and many other issues.
With Environment Washington, he organized our successful campaign to pass the state’s 100% Clean Electricity Bill, which requires utilities to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free energy sources by 2045. He also launched and led our campaign to protect Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas, rallying more than 15,000 people to call for action to restore salmon populations, a key food source for the endangered orcas. In April 2019, the Washington Legislature allocated $750,000 to study the issue.
The stereotype of an activist is someone stern, often angry and self-righteous. Bruce was none of these things. He enjoyed people and people enjoyed him. Washington has more clean energy, less plastic pollution, and more hope for the future of our children and the places we love, thanks to who Bruce was, the work he did, and the way he inspired others to act.
Prior to his move to Washington, Bruce was the state director of Wisconsin PIRG, where he helped win a smoke-free workplace law and a ban on the use of BPA in children’s products. He also ran the Wisconsin New Voters Project, which helped 20,000 young people register to vote. His public interest career started in Massachusetts, where he came onto staff with MASSPIRG as a campus organizer in 1998. Later, he became director of the Massachusetts Community Water Watch program, a joint effort of MASSPIRG and the federal AmeriCorps program.
Bruce met his wife, Heidi Blankenship Speight, in Massachusetts. They married in 2007 at a ceremony in Yosemite National Park, and spent subsequent vacations with family and friends in national parks throughout the West. He was a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine and grew up in Hampton, Virginia.
Bruce entered hospice care in mid-September, where he spent his last days with his wife; his two children, Sylvan and Wyatt; his mother and father, Hope and Wayne; his brother, Chad; and other family and close friends.
Christine Lindstrom, Bruce’s first staff director at MASSPIRG, said, “The world is better because of Bruce. I am better because of Bruce. His unique ability was to have a terrific time when things were hard.”
Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director of Environment Oregon, a network partner of Environment Washington, said, “You couldn't help but be in a good mood around Bruce. He set an example of how to move through life with joy and purpose.”
Those who knew him will remember Bruce for his fun-loving spirit, his knack for making a connection with everybody he met, and his infectious hope and faith that people who fight the good fight will win in the end.
With joy and purpose, we’ll honor his memory and carry on that good fight.