Remembering Maurice Ash

Published in Inside Track, the quarterly magazine of Green Alliance, Issue 4 (Spring 2003).

It was very easy to underestimate Maurice. He was a quiet man whose gentleness enveloped him like an overlarge overcoat. But he was as determined as he was gentle and as persistent as the wind. And he was as generous as he was determined. Without him the Green Alliance would never have got off the ground. It is not easy now, in these more sophisticated days, to finance an organisation whose modus operandi is networking and managing processes. Twenty years ago it was a great deal harder. Maurice’s generosity got the Green Alliance going and sustained it through the early days of defining and delivering a distinctive role for itself.

When I became Director of the Alliance Maurice was still its chairman. That meant that I had the pleasure of dining with him from time to time to bring him up to date with what we were doing, and of course, to remind him that we would be looking to him for more support again next year. These dinners took place at the Reform Club. I remember them as much for Maurice’s concern to refine an uneducated palate for wine as I do for his gentle insistence that we think more deeply about what we were doing.

In many ways Maurice was a very Victorian figure, a disinterested idealist. He engaged with the new while being deeply rooted in the past. He was, as I had good reason to be grateful for, that rare figure, a genuinely disinterested chairman. Though he was for many years, the Green Alliance’s principal, often only funder, he always put his duty to the organisation before his own opinions and never sought to impose his views on the rest of us. He funded the Green Alliance because he thought it was a good thing to do expecting nothing by way of recognition or reward.

The Green Alliance was set up with a specific goal in mind. Maurice was one of a small group of people who had recognised by the end of the seventies that there was a curious lacuna in the debate then taking place on the environment. Somehow it did not involve the political world. Rather, it was confined to a small group of passionate enthusiasts, mostly to be found in the campaigning NGOs and some isolated journalists and academics. The Alliance was founded to ‘project and ecological perspective into the political life of the United Kingdom.’

But agreeing the goal is not the same as agreeing how to go about achieving it. Environmentalists are rarely renowned for their lack of energy or conviction in putting their point of view. This can add much length to their internal debates. Maurice presided over the extended debate that searched out, and eventually found, the Green Alliance’s niche with a calm patience that brought us safely over the many crevasses in our opinions.

The gentle, almost shy, demeanour and disinterested discharge of duty should not be seen as marking any lack of deep conviction. Maurice was a person of powerful passions though they were for the most part reflective rather than proactive. His occasional papers were calls for thought rather than action. He was a champion of the need to think holistically about the fate of mankind. If this sometimes made him appear a little naïve, it did not make him wrong.

About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Other. Bookmark the permalink.