UC Berkeley Professor Randy Hester Receives Retirement Tribute

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday June 08, 2010 - 12:26:00 PM

Music, heartfelt tributes, reminiscences of colleagues, students, and friends and a jovial and appreciative crowd filled the lobby of Wurster Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on May 8, 2010, as Professor Randy Hester was honored. 

North Carolina native Hester, who has taught at Berkeley since 1980, is retiring from the faculty of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP). During his time there he had served as Department Chair.  

His wife, Marcia McNally, is an Adjunct Professor in LAEP. The two of them also have a private practice, Community Development by Design. 

A series of faculty colleagues, family members, and friends trooped to the microphone to pay him tribute. The reception was proceeded by an earlier dinner for donors to the newly formed Hester Award in Ecological Democracy, and followed by vigorous dancing to 1960s and 70s favorites. 

One speaker recalled that Hester had assigned his landscape students to read Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”.  

The writing was not, of course, specific to landscape architecture but “has a lot to do with dedication, with sacrifice, with passion, and with courage…and that’s what Randy has been teaching at Berkeley.” 

The speaker also described how working with Hester provided the opportunity “to learn in conversation with a mentor who does not view you an inferior.” 

“What we’re going to celebrate is not a career but a portion of a life well lived”, he concluded. 

Professor Linda Jewell, one of Hester’s faculty colleagues, brought down the house with the comment that she encountered Hester in college, and “I first met Randy at a fraternity party when I was a freshman”. (Hester, with his passionate progressive politics and neat, long, ponytail is today far from the stereotype of a person one would expect to meet at a fraternity.) 

Professor Louise Mozingo told Hester “you have taught us all to think with both florid imagination and sharp rationality”, and thanked him for “three decades of provocation, whether we wanted it or not.” She said Hester had raised “not always comfortable matters but utterly necessary ones.” 

She praised him “for never forgetting the world as wondrous.” 

Hester has “consistency, endless energy, active listening”, said Michael Rios, a former Hester student and current faculty member at UC Davis.  

Jeff Hou, Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington said Hester “has a profound impact on communities of the world.”  

Hou was a colleague in Taiwan, where Hester has worked for years in an effort to preserve from industrial development the endangered Tsengwen wetlands, migratory home to rare black-faced spoonbills. 

For years Hester took students to Taiwan to study environmental and planning issues there and, back in Berkeley, had classes build creative sculptures of the spoonbill that were displayed on the Berkeley campus to help bring publicity to the cause. 

Professor Tamesuke Nagahashi, who studied at Berkeley and at Kyoto University, where Hester and McNally spent a sabbatical, recalled that Hester told him that at the start of a planning study there, “Don’t do anything without listening to people.” “Randy, don’t retire!” he concluded, to applause from the crowd. 

“I appreciate so much how many, many answers you give me in my day-to-day life”, said Rachel Berny, now on the faculty at USC, who was a graduate student at Berkeley studying with Hester. 

“We could go on all night talking about Randy”, said UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Tim Duane, who was previously on the Berkeley faculty. He recalled how Hester tenaciously encouraged him to pursue finishing a book that others said wouldn’t have an audience.  

“We need some people around here who won’t let go of ideas”, Duane concluded. 

Former student Aditya Advani read a poem and paid tribute to “the optimism of his idealism.”  

Faculty colleague Joe McBride recited a comic poem he wrote to honor Hester in the manner of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service, recalling research trips, faculty meetings, and Hester’s successful fight as LAEP chair to protect funds for the department. 

“I’m so proud”, said Hester’s son, Nate, the final speaker. “For this community for having had you, and this community for having shaped you.” 

“He taught me to interact with the miracle and majesty and power of the natural world”, he said. “He taught me about outrageous creative hope. Outrageous in taking risks and creative in proposing solutions…he’s been brave enough to hope for a better world.” 

Hester and McNally live in West Berkeley, near San Pablo Park, and have been actively engaged in the local community. In recent years McNally—who was also lavishly and fondly praised at the retirement party—helped lead a community process to assess Berkeley’s public park system at its 100th anniversary. 

Hester is the author of Design for Ecological Democracy and several other books. The College of Environmental Design has established the Professor Randy Hester Graduate Student Award in Ecological Democracy in his honor. 

The award was founded by four Hester students-- Bill Eisenstein, Rachel Berney, Sarah Minick, and Amy Dryden—who took the initiative and raised over $50,000 on their own in initial funding, despite the recession. 

Ecological democracy”, the terms of the Award say, “involves the participatory making of places that, in Randy’s words, enable community-building, are resilient to ecological and economic forces of change, and impel people to want to live in them by fostering joy and beauty, and touching their hearts. Ecological democracy’s greatest themes are participation, connection, sacredness, and engagement with nature. These involve strengthening bonds between people and their community, providing regular access to nature inside the city, and honoring our deepest attachments to the places we inhabit. A participatory approach to place-making is also indispensable.” 

Gifts to the Award fund made by current or former faculty or staff, and current student before June 30, 2012 will be matched under the Chancellor’s Challenge for Student Support initiative, up to a maximum of $250,000 in the fund.