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Hanford activist Dick Belsey died

Dick Belsey worked on cleaning up Hanford -- the largest nuclear waste dump in the Western Hemisphere -- for many years. After his death last month Hanford activists wrote about their memories of Dick on the Hanford email list. This is worth reading for what it says about what it means to be an activist. -- L.P.
Hanford Watch

Dick Belsey

From: Paige Knight, president, Hanford Watch
Date: Nov 8, 2003
Subject: Dick Belsey died on Thursday Morning

For those of you who knew Dr. Richard (Dick) Belsey, he died Thursday morning and was buried this afternoon. Dick is the first person I met at my first Hanford Hearing on the "Reconfiguration of the Weapons Complex" in 1991 during the Salt II Treaties signing by President Bush (I) and Gorbachev of Russia. He became my mentor and my dear friend following that meeting.

We worked together on the Hanford Advisory Board from its inception. He became a member of the first Hanford Watch Board, and was a constant advisor; was a fellow gardener, a baker of incredible breads, and even hosted the first social gathering of the Hanford Advisory Board at the first meeting held in Portland. This broke the ice for people of different persuasions "breaking bread" together. I remember Ralph Patt and a fellow musician playing jazz at that function and a later one, since people took up Dick's gathering and made it somewhat of a tradition at Board meetings around the region.

Dick brought a humanity, a heart and much thoughtful wisdom to our first attempts to work together as a region of divergent views. Hanford Watch was gifted with its first computer from Dick. Dick was a true public servant who was dedicated to bettering the world. He had a tremendous impact on Hanford Cleanup visions and progress we have seen to date.

Dick died from the progressive debilitation of Parkinson's disease. His wife, Ashira, died last year in November. I last visited him at his nursing home about 3 weeks ago. I feel a great loss, but am so happy he is free. Dick's only daughter, Karen, is opening her house to Dick's friends and acquaintances this Sunday from 2pm til 5 pm. For more information call Paige at 503-232-0848.

From: Paul W. Kruger, Dept. of Energy


I wanted to offer a few thoughts in this very sad time of Dick Belsey's passing:

Dr. Belsey was the first member of the Hanford Advisory Board to approach me after I became the Director of Environment, Safety and Health for DOE/Hanford in January 1995. We had a half hour appointment late in the day, and we ended up spending over 2 hours discussing the cultural change that was needed to improve the safety and health of the Hanford workforce. Dick had a vision of empowering the Hanford workforce to have a voice in safety ... starting with a voice in daily pre-job meetings, all to having workers interact w/contractor and DOE senior managers. Dick believed that a new era of openness, and of involved and empowered workers, and a DOE commitment to these principles and to wanting to improve safety, could make a difference. His vision was powerful and compelling.

While I agreed with Dick on these principles (Dick usually did not allow the conversation to end until either I agreed with him, or we arrived at a consensus)... and I was willing to make the effort to change the DOE/Hanford culture, I also cautioned Dick on the significance of the cultural change needed and how long large bureaucracies take to change. Dick's reaction was that if the challenge was significant ... then we would all just have to work all the harder to make the change ... because it was needed to improve the health and safety of all Hanford workers. His energy, passion and vision was infectious.

Throughout the period of 1995-1999 I worked with Dick on making the needed cultural changes to improve health and safety at Hanford. New DOE policies were written. Implementation of these policies within DOE and its contractors was monitored. Dick served as a supporter, partner, cheerleader, critic, recognizer of our progress, and conscience to these efforts throughout this period. The changes Dick wanted to see in 1995 gradually took form. It was difficult, but the challenges were made easier by the model of Dicks tenacity, with a good sense of humor and a "we shall overcome attitude" that set an example for all of us to keep heart in working for positive change.

By 1999, openness, worker involvement and empowerment, and a true commitment to safety had begun to take shape. Accident statistics had gone from among the worst in the DOE complex to among the best. The Voluntary Protection Program, which embodied many of Dick's safety principles, was actively implemented on site. Dick, I know, would be proud that several of our contracts have achieved VPP "Star" Status. After 1999 I moved on to other roles at Hanford ... but it was truly an honor to have worked with him from 1995-1999. Dick has made a big difference at Hanford. Lives were saved and injuries were avoided because of his commitment that things could be different. Is the situation perfect ... certainly not. I believe Dick would understand that, but he would also want us to all keep striving to continue to make things better. I am convinced he is watching us, with his trademark vest on ... and placing thoughts of improvements that can be made into our minds.

For me personally, Dick is certainly serving as this guide or conscience, and is still making a difference in my life. When it comes to safety and health, I find myself asking how Dick would want to change this situation for the better. Dr. Belsey was a great example to me ... and I will always remember him, and hope that I can carry some of his passion forward with me through my life.

If you could rely these thoughts to Dick Belsey's daughter Karen, and my great sorrow at Dick's passing, I would appreciate it.

Thank you,

P W Kruger DOE-AMT/PNNL Site Office Manager

From: Barbara K. Wise, Hanford Advisory Board

Dick was my mentor and my friend. I had the privilege of supporting him and the Hanford Advisory Board committee he chaired. I vividly remember my interactions with him those first few months. I was not sure whether I was supporting a genius or an angry man with a cause. Over the course of several years, I discovered he was both and so much more.

The right of people to question the decisions that affected them was Dick's passion. In his work on Hanford issues, he was the voice for the workers and the public questioning the decision makers at the Department of Energy (DOE) whose legacy was the creation of the atomic bomb and the Highly contaminated waste they left scattered around the United States. As chairman of the committee that oversaw the majority of the Hanford technical issues, he commanded the respect of all because he treated all with respect. He could have been the poster boy for "a gentleman and a scholar." Even today, several of the DOE managers speak of Dick with such kindness and gratitude.

Then there was the bread baking Dick. He was so excited when he took the plunge and remodeled the basement to support this hobby(!!). I never knew there were so many different types of rye bread. Then there was Dick, the carousel rider. I remember an early fall evening in Spokane. We were there for a Hanford Advisory Board meeting. He insisted we go for a walk along the river where he surprised me with a carousel ride. He so enjoyed sharing the little things with others.

My husband and I knew Dick. We also knew Ashira. Oh how she loved to sing and what a voice she had. Both of them enjoyed sharing stories about Karen, who they so loved and spoke of with such pride. They had such fun co-telling the "beans in the nose" and "disrobing for charity while engaging in acrobatics" stories.

I was so blessed to have known and spent so much time with Dick. I learned so much - how to value and respect the opinions of others, to fight for what is important to you, to question what really is important and to laugh.

From: Todd Martin, chair, Hanford advisory board


In the face of a life fully lived, the Hanford Advisory Board seems like a small thing. I don't want to overemphasize the importance of the Board in any of our lives, but I also don't think it is possible to overemphasize the influence - much of it intangible - of Dick Belsey on the Board.

Dick was the major influence in developing how our committee process works. The 'pick and shovel' approach as he used to call it, where issues are identified, taken up by issue managers and walked through the process. He was also the first to institute the 'ten minute rule' which helped this Board get through a jam packed agenda just this past week.

Dick was also one of the first to turn his pick and shovel on the wall that divided local and regional interests on the Board. And he did a fair amount of work chipping that wall down. As we all know, this didn't arise out of political pragmatism. To the contrary, Dick was one of the most passionate members of the Board, but refused to accept the thought that he, and others, couldn't work toward a common goal with people of different beliefs.

Dick was one of the first to recognize that a sound working relationship with agency and contractor personnel was helpful both to the agencies and to the Board. Even when he knew the committee was going to beat on them, Dick ensured that agency folks would be treated fairly and respectfully. And with some issues, particularly in the early days, a fair and respectable beating was absolutely the best we could hope for.

The Hanford Advisory Board has a roadmap for success. We know what will make us successful, and what will make us fail. As we've drawn this roadmap over the last ten years, more often than not, Dick was the one with the pen in his hand, showing us just where to go.

To use an already overused term, Dick was mentor for me. He taught me what worked and didn't work in running a committee. And that has, obviously influenced my approach to chairing the Board.


From: Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest

Paige, thank you for this notice and touching reminder of what a wonderful person Dick was. His legacy is the inspiration and learning he gave to so many others from his heart.

From: Shelley Cimon, Hanford Advisory Board

Dear Paige,

I had the fortune of knowing Dick Belsey for many, many years. Although many of the Hanford community folks only really came to know Dick through the shaping of the Hanford Advisory Board, he actually helped to define the work, and style of the Oregon Hanford Cleanup board back in it's conception in the mid 1980's. He was a continual sounding board for me, in those early years. He was a man who was always clear on what was morally the right thing to do and never blanched from adversity. Walls of mistrust were always opportunities for work and change. He was one of the first to truly champion the health and safety of all workers at the Hanford site. Dick's wisdom and compassion most certainly stood us well when we started down the long path to "common ground".

One time when we were flying back home together from an Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board meeting in Bend he shared with me - from that haze of weariness we all experience after a couple of full days of meetings - his love of everyone we work with, and his sense that we were all "family". He truly admired the willingness of all of us to roll up our sleeves and with "pick and shovel" try to craft a vision for Hanford's future.

I have thought about that often, over the years. It was never closer to me than last Friday, at our HAB meeting in Portland. I had brought a front-page photo of my son to share with folks on our Board and we all, collectively, shared one person's birthday, another's success at a master's degree, the wedding of a third, and the loss of our friend, Dick.

He is in my heart,


From: Dirk Dunning, Oregon Department of Energy

Dick will be greatly missed by all of us. We have lost a very great man and a dear friend with a huge heart. I met Dick at a Physicians for Social Responsibility meeting. Ralph Patt was giving a presentation on the immense environmental contamination in the Ukraine at the Chelyabinsk site. Dick and Ralph struck me then as a kind and thoughtful men who had taken up a difficult, lonely and even daunting task, with humor, joy and love. It was at that evening meeting that I decided on where my future lay. Over the years I had the joy and privilege to work with Dick on a wide range of issues, from the most terribly difficult technical matters to the metaphysical. He had a deep insight into the technical matters, as well as into the human heart. I had the privilege as well to know a bit of the private man at home with his wonderful wife Ashira. Dick saw far beyond today or even the many today's of tomorrow - and straight into the center of problems. He weighed equally the concerns of all and sought fairness, equity, justice, kindness and love in all he did. Dick is one of my greatest hero's. I have missed his presence terribly these last few years. It is no small measure of him that in considering most decisions I ask myself what I think Dick might have done were he in my shoes. I have picked up a habit from my Native American friends. They tell stories that reflect their history. The stories tell not only what happened, but in large ways how these shaped them into who they are as a people. I am very proud that Dick is a part of my story. Dick Belsey is great man, who I will remember fondly for all of my days. Dirk Dunning

From: Doug Riggs, Hanford Information Network


I remember the very first meeting I had with Dick. It was in early 1995 I believe, and Congressman Duncan Hunter had just proposed cutting $1 billion out of EM. Dick came into Congressman Hastings' office in Washington D.C. where I worked, and wanted to know what we thought about it. I think he was pleasantly surprised that we too opposed the cut. It also turned out that Dick lived near Lewis and Clark College -- in fact near 1 block away from where I had lived. From this initial meeting grew a working relationship over a period of three or four years. He was always a gentleman, knowledgeable, and polite. But he was also firm in his beliefs.

Others have mentioned that Dick really wanted to tear down the barriers that exist between west and east, contractor and activist, DOE and community leaders. That's the side of Dick that I saw time and time again. He made a point to come visit Hastings' office when he was in D.C., and frequently picked up the phone to let me know a concern of his, or something he thought needed to be addressed.

Dick helped convince us of the need for stakeholder involvement and a local role in the decision making process. He was a firm believer that the public had to be involved or support for the EM program would eventually wither in Congress. He was a firm believer that if you educated people about what it was that needed to be done at Hanford that people would support the effort. That's was a key to establishing the annual site briefings in Congress (which continue to this day) and to the annual Congressional staff trip to Hanford (which also continues to this day).

But mostly, Dick communicated to me and to many others who he worked with, that he believed that we all shared a common goal, and just because we couldn't always agree on the means, we agreed on the end. He rightly believed that was enough to form the basic relationships that could break down those barriers and get the job done.

From: Lynn Porter, Hanford Watch

I remember Dick referring to himself, at a meeting, as a "Hanford junkie." Yes, that's what it takes to get somewhere on any political issue: you have to be rightly obsessed and stick with it for years, like he did. While they're still alive, I would like to say that I appreciate the tireless, endless work of all the Hanford junkies.

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