A Tribute to Chris Percy

It was with deepest sadness that WFLT members experienced the loss of board member Chris Percy, who died suddenly, on March 23, 2002.

Chris was passionate about protecting Connecticut’s environment. Through his lifelong commitment to conservation, and his 40 years of service, he has left a wonderful, lasting legacy.

Born November 6, 1934 in New York NY, Chris spent his summers along the Connecticut shoreline in Waterford before moving here permanently in 1953. Long Island Sound had long been a part of Chris’s life and he would spend many a summer’s day there enjoying his favorite sport of fly-fishing. Chris also had a love of the arts and became a founding member of the Eugene O’Neil Theatre.

After graduating from Trinity College in Hartford in 1957, Chris studied landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Here he was influenced by the work of professor Ian McHarg, a specialist in natural, macro-scale planning. McHarg’s work helped Chris to begin to understand how quickly the Northeast’s natural resources were being destroyed.

In 1968, with the Connecticut River in horrible condition, Chris was hired as executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. He helped initiate river cleanup work, and successfully fought plans to divert the Connecticut River’s waters to the Boston metropolitan region. Next, while serving on the New England Fishery Management Council, he asked for an immediate reduction of New England’s commercial fishing fleet, and a fishing moratorium in areas of the North Atlantic that serve as vital finfish habitat. He called upon family friend Katherine Hepburn and actress Julie Harris to speak and write in favor of the federal action to restore the finfish stocks. Hepburn, also at Chris’s request, later narrated a public service commercial on behalf of the Long Island Sound Study, funded by the state and federal governments.

“He knows how to touch people, how to get people involved”, said the late William Niering, the well-known Connecticut College biologist. “I place him in a very high category, in terms of people who are trying to save the Sound”.

In 1981, Chris became Director of Development for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, whose charge was to restore salmon to New England and parts of Canada. Then, when there were early signs of severe ecological damage from billions of gallons of raw sewage being dumped into Long Island Sound, he decided to take on a new cause.

In 1984, Chris founded The Sounds Conservancy, whose mission was to restore Southern New England’s sounds and to support student research grants. Among other achievements, the conservancy was successful in convincing the Department of Transportation and Amtrak to remove the causeways for railroads that had blocked the connection between the coves and the sound, and had caused the coves to fill in, choking off fish and shellfish beds.

Upon Chris’s retirement as President of the Sounds Conservancy in 1995, he had successfully raised $650,000 for student research grants. At that time The Sounds Conservancy merged with the Quebec-Labrador Foundation and Chris continued to serve on the QLF board to advise students with their research efforts. Larry Morris, a good friend and QLF President wrote “ there are many wonderful things I would like to say about Chris, but that is decidedly not the way he would have wanted it”. He would allow that he was humble, fun to be with, and very much enjoyed his friends. He did not seek out large social gathering, in fact avoided them at all costs if he possibly could. He preferred instead to be with his buddies, fishing for blues or stripers somewhere in Long Island Sound.

In 1997, Chris was instrumental in conveying 11.25 acres of family owned shoreline property to be preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement with the WFLT. In 1998, he also gifted a small island called “Two Tree Island” to the trust. He was fond of visiting the island and reporting to the board his observations.

Chris came onto the board of directors in 1998 and was a hands on member. He closely monitoring the various WFLT properties and could often be found enjoying the outdoors with friend and fellow board member, Ralph Madara, putting up boundary markers, trimming invasive species or clearing trails. He drafted a priority and criteria document which was implemented as an important guideline for all land gifts and acquisitions. Chris was responsible for helping to create our web site and worked closely with Waterford planning officials in mapping out boundaries of WFLT holdings, and planning prospective greenways with state and town owned properties. He was instrumental in obtaining grant money to design an informational brochure for the trust, and most recently had worked on the meadow restoration project at the Power’s Tract on Great Neck Rd.

Chris’s life long commitment to conservation was defined by excellence. With his gentle personality and sense of humor, he was able to persuade government and businesses alike of the importance of being good stewards of our local resources.

Chris’s loss affects us deeply. His legacy will endure as we continue our work as stewards of our environment with that same spirit of excellence, enthusiasm, passion and humor, and that Percy determination. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.


Copyright © 2007 Westfarms Land Trust, Inc. All Rights Reserved.