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Haskell dies at 71
Former NCI board member served in Wilder's cabinet
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Elizabeth Haskell

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Elizabeth Heim Haskell, a former state Secretary of Natural Resources and Martinsville City Council member who was named the 2005 Outstanding Virginian, died Tuesday at the Hock Family Pavilion hospice facility at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C.

Haskell, 71, built a career out of her concern for the environment and her community.

She served on the Martinsville City Council from 1996 to 2000 and focused on the issues of jobs and economic growth, environment, safety and education.

Haskell’s priority on a better-educated workforce was evident in her long involvement with the New College Institute. She served on the New College Planning Commission, the predecessor to NCI’s board, in 2005 and 2006, and was its vice chairman.

When NCI officially was established on July 1, 2006, then-Gov. Tim Kaine appointed her as one of the first members of its board of directors. She served as vice chairman of the board until her term ended in 2010.

Haskell also served on the New College Foundation board since its inception in 2006 and as its chairman from 2006 through 2011.

Bassett Furniture President/CEO Robert H. “Rob” Spilman worked with Haskell on the New College Planning Commission and the NCI board afterward. On Tuesday, he called her a “real driving force” in the effort to create the institute.

“She was a good friend whom I respected greatly. I thought she was obviously bright, (and) was insightful. ... We worked closely together in the early days of NCI and I valued her opinion as much as anyone. She was a confidante in those early days, and a sounding board,” he said.

Spilman counted on Haskell to tell him the truth.

“She would prop me up when things were not going well. She also was tough and would tell you things you didn’t want to hear and needed to hear. I admired and respected her,” he said.

Still, “she was a Democrat and I’m a Republican, so we didn’t agree on everything, but that was OK,” Spilman said. “I’m glad I got to know her.”

Outside Martinsville, Haskell was best known for serving as state Secretary of Natural Resources in then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s cabinet from 1990 to 1994.

Upon learning of her death Tuesday, Wilder called her “stellar, as it relates to perception and vision and what we needed.

“She was very helpful in terms of securing additional park land for the state. ... She was visionary and rock solid, I would say,” he added.

Haskell also recognized the need to strike a balance between business and environmental interests, Wilder said.

“She, having been in business with her husband ... recognized that it wasn’t just the good earth people who are out there. It was in our mutual interest to preserve our natural wonders,” he said.

“Sometimes it gets one-sided” listening to each side on an issue, Wilder said. “She was always right down the middle.”

“I will miss her as a friend,” he added.

In 2005, Haskell was recognized as the Outstanding Virginian by the General Assembly. She asked former Gov. Gerald Baliles, a Patrick County native and longtime friend, to speak at that event.

On Tuesday, Baliles said he was “saddened by the loss of this lady of grace and accomplishments. She was a wonderful friend (with) a delightful sense of humor.

“I admired her focus on goals, yet her practical view that sometimes progress requires time. She had an intellectual curiosity that made her an appealing figure both in public and private realms,” Baliles said, adding that she was a leader in both environmental and educational matters.

“I thought she represented not just Southside Virginia and the Martinsville-Henry County area when she was Secretary of Natural Resources, but she was a staunch ally when we were laying the foundation for the New College Institute in Martinsville,” he said.

Baliles noted that he created the office of secretary of natural resources when he was governor, and said she served “admirably” as the second person to hold the post.

“She was knowledgeable about state issues and passionate about the need for public involvement through awareness. She was a wonderful advocate, yet also practical about approaches” to protect and preserve the state’s natural resources, he said.

When Haskell was named Outstanding Virginia, then-Del. Robert Hurt told the legislature: “Her tenure (as Secretary of Natural Resources) was marked by significant environmental progress, the creation of new state parks, the revitalization of existing state parks and the establishment of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.”

“The theme of all of her public environmental service has been the strong protection of the environment while promoting economic progress,” Hurt added.

Before being appointed by Wilder, Haskell served on the state Air Pollution Control Board from 1973 to 1989 and was its chairman for six years. She first was appointed to the board by Gov. Linwood Holton, and she was reappointed by Govs. Mills Godwin, John Dalton, Charles Robb and Baliles.

From 1983 to 1985, she was Robb’s appointee to the Uranium Administrative Group, established by the General Assembly to study the environmental and economic implications of uranium mining in Virginia. Mining was proposed at the time by Marline Uranium Corp. in Pittsylvania County, but plans were dropped due to environmental concerns and a declining market for uranium.

Haskell was a member of the Conservationists for Wilder Committee, and she served eight years on the board of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.

Haskell managed her own environmental consulting firm from 1972 to 1981, specializing in public administration, pollution control and regulatory reform analyses, federal and state agencies and foundations. Her clients included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Regulatory Reform Council, Office of Management and Budget, and the Ford Foundation.

She also was:

• One of the first fellows of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.,

• Environmental public policy analyst for the Urban Institute,

• Special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for water pollution control,

• Legislative assistant to Sen. Henry M. Jackson, D-Wash., and Rep. Richard White, D-Texas,

• Author of many books and articles on the environment,

• Member of the board of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and

• Recipient of the Clean Air Conservationist of the Year award from the Virginia Wildlife Federation.

She had served on the boards of the Patrick Henry Community College Foundation, SunTrust Bank, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest in Bedford County.

Haskell also was a director and officer of the Martinsville Bulletin.

“Elizabeth was a good friend and a good listener. She provided insightful, energetic leadership as a longtime director of the Martinsville Bulletin. She could make tough decisions but her nature was empathetic, positive and fun-loving. In her long fight with cancer, her toughness became courageous,” said Bulletin Publisher George Harris.

Haskell received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964.

Surviving are a son, Andrew Haskell of Morristown, N.J.; three grandchildren, Chase Winn Haskell, Catherine Antoinette Haskell and Harrison Robert Haskell; and a brother, Henry C. Heim of Gig Harbor, Wash.

Haskell’s husband, Robert H. Haskell III, died on Jan. 4, 2013.

A private memorial service will be held at a later date.


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