Sunday, June 24, 2012

Those dangerous blue eyes: David McTaggart ... Greenpeace Days

Oh, those eyes were an intense and lovely blue. In 2001, on a online memorial for David McTaggart when Greenpeacers around the world mourned his death, one entry referred to his "dangerous blue eyes." Yes. Yes, they were.

McTaggart, head down, middle, under assault aboard his ketch.
(Photos were taken by his girlfriend and sneaked off the boat.)
In 1972 and '73 McTaggart and a small crew sailed his ketch into the restricted zone around Mururora Atoll, to prevent France from setting off a nuclear test. The idea was that as long as the crew was in the danger zone, the bomb could not be deployed. It worked--until infuriated French commandoes boarded his ship and beat David so badly they ended up taking him off the ketch and to a hospital. One of the truncheon blows struck his right eye, nearly blinding it.  

From the Greenpeace website: "Between 1975 and 1991, McTaggart was a driving force behind Greenpeace campaigns to save the whales, stop the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean, block the production of toxic wastes, end nuclear testing, and protect the Antarctic continent from oil and mineral exploitation."

But here's the thing about McTaggart: he wasn't some saintly do-gooder, patiently working on behalf of the environment. David was the most complicated--and fascinating--mix of characteristics that I've ever encountered in a single person.

Consider how Brian Fitzgerald launched that online memorial to a worldwide organization in mourning: "I hope my colleagues will join me here in posting their recollections and testimonials to a man of great humour and warmth and vision. I'm sure we'll also remember to mention that he was a cold-hearted bastard armed with Machiavellian ethics, and that whether we loved him or hated him (and everyone who knew him usually regarded him with a mixture of both) the world is a less interesting place without him."

And here are some excerpts, as we followed Brian's lead:

David could be so aggravating that you’d want to throttle him. So contentious and provocative and sexist and downright duplicitous that you could not imagine working with him one more minute. But he had faith in people and he challenged us to be tough, to take on the big things. He trusted me to get him his boat back and so I did. 
He was both charismatic and enigmatic. And incredibly stubborn.
For me, his impact was as the ultimate inspiration. Not in the sense of being someone you aspired to be like, god knows he had his unpleasant side, but in the sense of making you realise at first hand that one person really can make a difference. That one person, through bloody hard work, determination, focus, courage and sheer willpower could move a nation, and even the world.
He could work harder than anyone I ever met but was the best drinking companion you could ever hope to share a beer with.
We all have our memories of David, and without exception, they are vivid memories, strong memories of one of the most unforgettable people any of us are ever likely to meet. We've all on occasion disagreed with him and have experienced the full force of his personality; we've all on occasion been grateful to him beyond bounds. 
McTaggart was a visionary--he could see/analyze potential outcomes to actions (literally) years into the future.  Sometimes the rest of us were numbskulls compared to him.  But he was ruthless in pursuing his vision(s).  He was charismatic and confounding.  I can think of no other person both so revered and reviled in GP. 
Unconventional, stubborn, iconic. A thorn in the sides, a pain in the butt, and a twinkle in the eye.
For me David's defining strength was his uncanny ability to see what was important, focus on that and then his single-minded determination to get there. He was a true leader, and visionary. 
Although to many of us he was almost superman, he did not win the war. But he did show us it could be won.
The world is a better place because he knocked so many of our heads together and told us to just get on with it.

Today, June 24, is McTaggart's birthday; he would have been 80 years old. Whether or not you ever had the opportunity of sitting with David in a pub (while he drank you under the table), I invite you to raise a glass in his memory today. As it says on the Greenpeace website: The world will never see another one of him.

(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 


  1. I didn't know him, but I will gladly celebrate such a spirit! Thank you for remembering...

  2. " Unconventional, stubborn, iconic. A thorn in the sides, a pain in the butt, and a twinkle in the eye."  I love that!  Hmmm...for some reason it reminds me of a character in your current book.

  3. I'll hold my glass high for a man (or woman) who acts on his or her convictions!   For him, the whales and the sea!  

  4.  That David McTaggart was a driving force for planetary and human ethics is made clear in the comments of those who knew him.  A wonderful tribute and remembrance.

  5. And here's to all who have taken up where he left off!  

  6. and there was me thinking you were  slipping into personality cult blackhole
    Lets hope there  ARE  some more  difficult uncompromising  visionaries out there -
    God knows we need them and the good drinking buddies too .....
    Hope to share a few with you before this decade is done.

  7. Ha, Joly--I remember McT's faults along with how charismatic, confounding, & brilliant he was... That's part of what makes him so fascinating still, I think.

    Come across the pond one of these days! Ginsberg's Irish Pub is gone, but I'll buy you one at some other fine establishment.

  8. Yes indeed!

  9. Cheers, Ruth!

  10. You are very insightful, Poetrose.

  11. And thank you for celebrating him, DJan! McT was something; one of those people I'll remember all of my days...                

  12. He was a pirate and pig-ignorant about real environmental issues. His view of the world was shockingly one-eyed for a man credited with so much. At heart, he was in it for what he could get out of it.

  13. My sister who met Dave in 1974, had the opportunity to figure out the mystery. He was 27 and sister was 21. His first book he publisher, he made a point to visit our mother and signed her copy and I remember the piercing blue eyes and mum thought he was just wonderful. what a mystery. My mother, dad and myself stayed at his brothers home on Thornaby Island, 15 km outside the Sunshine coast off Sechelt, BC.
    I was fasinated with the person who introduced us to Greenpeace and my mother supported Greenpeace for 35 years. It was nice to have known him, 42 years has passed since I first met him.

  14. I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.