Bob Hattoy, R.I.P.

Bob HattoyBob Hattoy was a grand human being.  

He is one of the handful of people who educated me about the environment when Mayor Bradley appointed me as his deputy for environmental issues despite my minimal experience with the issue.  This was in 1987, at the cusp of a period of environmental progress that I was fortunate enough to participate in.  He helped me, even though he was allied with Bradley’s rival at the time, then-Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. He was naturally generous.

Bob was sort of the Robin Williams of the environmental movement — outrageous, lightening-quick, hilarious.  As with any activist movement, some environmentalists are irony-challenged.  Not Bob.  He knew what the other side would say, and he was already making fun of it, simultaneously making fun of himself and all of us.  He came out of politics, and he was a good exponent of the “don’t believe your own press releases” maxim.  He worked hard and passionately, but wore his burdens lightly.  His humor was never cutting, cheap or mean.  It was always apparent he cared about people. Not people in the abstract.  People in the room. People in his life.

In the LA Times obituary, Elaine Woo describes how Bob’s irreverence got him in trouble with President Clinton on the issue of gays in the military:

He told that newspaper in March 1993 that he “almost started to cry” when he heard Clinton say at a news conference that he would consider limiting the assignments of gay soldiers. Such a move, Hattoy said, would be akin to “restricting gays and lesbians to jobs as florists and hairdressers” in civilian life.

By the next year, he was reassigned to the post of White House liaison on environmental matters at the Interior Department, where administration officials thought he would be less likely to be consulted about issues affecting gays and lesbians.

Of course, it was Bill Clinton who made Bob famous when he invited him to address the 1992 Democratic Convention about AIDS.  After mischeviously thanking “Aretha and God” in that order, Bob mesmerized the crowd and the TV audience, delivering this speech, proving he could be intensely serious when the occasion called for it.  Here is a piece of it, but the whole thing is at the link and deserves your time.

We need a President who will take action, a President strong enough to take on the insurance companies that drop people with the HIV virus, a President courageous enough to take on the drug companies who drive AIDS patients into poverty and deny them lifesaving medicine. And we need a President who isn’t terrified of the word “condom.” (Applause)

Every single person with AIDS is someone worthy of caring for. After all, we are your sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. We are doctors and lawyers, folks in the military, ministers and priests and rabbis. We are Democrats, and yes, Mr. President, Republicans. We are part of the American family and, Mr. President, your family has AIDS and we’re dying and you’re doing nothing about it. (Applause)

Listen. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to live in an America where the President sees me as the enemy. I can face dying because of a disease, but not because of politics.

I was so fortunate to see Bob for what turned out to be the last time at a beautiful outdoor wedding of a mutual friend last fall.  He was the same guy, funny, sweet, extremely gracious to my wife, hungry for political gossip.  He looked positively vigorous.  But he told me that he veered from good health to bad, and wasn’t always so robust. Things could change quickly.

According to the Times, he moved to Sacramento in January, perhaps to facilitate his service as chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, where he had served since 2002.  He died last weekend from complications of his disease.  I owe Bob a lot, and I’m going to miss him. 

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