Dave BirminghamWe were saddened to hear of the passing of Dave Birmingham, at his home in Keremeos, British Columbia, on 11 January. Dave was the engineer on board the Phyllis Cormack, the boat chartered by the Don’t Make a Wave Committee in 1971 to travel to Amchitka and protest the US nuclear missile testing there. As the Phyllis Cormack sailed towards the Aleutian Islands it also sailed into history, with this determined group of protestors becoming the founders of Greenpeace.

Barbara Stowe, daughter of the late Greenpeace founders Irving and Dorothy Stowe, met Dave a few years ago, at the wake held for another Phyllis Cormack crewmember, Lyle Thurston. I asked her about her memories of him:

I didn't really know Dave in the early days, but my parents did, and my father worked closely with his wife Deeno, who was a key mover and shaker in the Voice of Women.  She campaigned tirelessly against the Amchitka blasts.  Dave told me recently that it was Deeno who convinced him to sail on the Phyllis Cormack in 1971.  "She said they needed an engineer, so I thought I'd better go," he said, in his typically understated, modest manner.

I was very impressed by Dave when he and Bill Darnell came to Lyle Thurston's wake in June of 2008.  Here was a 95 year old man spending sixteen hours or so travelling by bus to Vancouver.  He got on a Greyhound alone and traveled from Keremeos to Vernon to meet Bill, and then they both got back on the bus and continued to Vancouver...all told, a very long day.  We picked them up at the bus depot and this dapper gentleman, his white hair neatly combed, was wearing a suit and barely complained as we headed back to our place.  He spoke with wit and clarity and was sharp as a tack.

After the wake, he told us he'd been building a submersible in his backyard, and was trying to get his son to finish it.  He'd heard famous Swiss oceanographer Jacques Picard speak at a conference, and this inspired him to embark on his ambitious project.  Accordingly, we took Dave to see the bathosphere outside the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where he happily posed for photos.  For the next few years I received Christmas cards and we exchanged the occasional letter.  His were always beautifully composed and handwritten in elegant script which did not in any way betray the ravages of old age.  

A memorial service was held in Keremeos this weekend, with staff from Greenpeace Canada in attendance. Also paying their respects were fellow Phyllis Cormack crew members Bill Darnell and Robert Keziere. Barbara, unfortunately, was unable to attend, but she and her husband, together with another Greenpeace founder, Dorothy Metcalfe, set up a large photograph of Dave in their Vancouver living room, reminisced and honoured Dave in their own way.

We salute Dave, and we will forever remember him for the invaluable contribution he made to Greenpeace, and to a green and peaceful future.