Sandy Mason never met a snake he didn’t like, a spider he didn’t delight in or a bat he didn’t want to protect. Sandy died at home with me, Mary, his wife of 40 short years by his side on December 26. He was 74 years young.
Sandy will be remembered not only for his love of bats, spiders, snakes and marmots but for his great passion for all wildlife and wildlands and for the joy he took in life.
He leaves behind many people who loved, admired and respected him and whom he loved, respected and admired in return.
Born into suburbia but immersed in nature at an early age by his parents Ap and Connie, he spent his summers in Maine in the cabin his father built. Along with his brother Tony, he was a camper and then counselor at the boys camp, Agawam, that his grandfather started in 1919. There he learned how to become his best self, developing the character traits required for the positive role he played in his life as well as sportsmanship, service to others and stewardship of the Natural world.
After trying his hand at both Amherst and Colorado College for a few years, he took time off in between finishing college with a degree in film and photography from Columbia College in Chicago. Over a period of seven years during that time he was first mate on Skip MacArthur‘s 50-foot Ketch, The Compass Rose. Together they logged close to 70,000 deep-sea miles, including rounding Cape Horn. His world sailing travels included near death in 100-foot hurricane seas in the South Atlantic to near Paradise in the South Pacific.
Sandy became a landlubber when he met and married me in 1980. For many years we owned and operated a family campground in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
As it was a summer business, we had many winters to travel to warmer climes and also to ski areas, one of which was Teton Valley, Idaho. Our friends Dan Mead and Sally Eagle whom we met backpacking in New Zealand on our honeymoon lent us their cabin up Horseshoe Canyon many times over the years. When we sold our business we decided to stop here for a while and determine where we would live next. We never left except for a couple of years when we worked as seasonal interpretive park rangers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Sandy is known locally for his time as the Executive Director at Valley Advocates for Responsible Development and for his time on the VARD board, for his work with both the Sonoran Institute and Legacy Works Group. He spent countless hours at public meetings, some of which went into the wee hours, advocating for the protection of Teton Valley’s special character and environment. He was involved in the Teton Water Users Group, an unprecedented partnership between Teton Valley farmers and conservationists to protect the irrigation and hydrology of Teton Valley. Most recently he was instrumental in the Teton Creek Corridor Project where he spearheaded a broad coalition of Teton Valley nonprofits to restore a key piece of the Teton Valley ecosystem.
However, our friend Will Barret reminded me that Sandy’s passion for land preservation began in the 1980s. Sandy ran for and was elected to the planning board in Egremont, MA, after he learned that an 1100-acre historic resort abutting the Appalachian Trail Corridor was purchased by a Boston development group. His intention was to reduce the impact of this development on the community and on the environment. As Will says, Sandy was not shy about expressing his opinions regarding the best use of a unique piece of land. After several years of difficult negotiations, the development group threw in the towel. Sandy has been recognized as a driving force behind what has become the Jug End State Reservation and Wildlife Management Area, a popular day use area for hiking, skiing, hunting and fishing.
I asked friends for their thoughts for this not so typical Obituary.
As one friend David Work mentioned, “The TVN doesn’t want four pages!”
So I have chosen a few choice thoughts to include:
Our nephew Tim sent a letter to Sandy recently in which he wrote “You have lived your whole life like you have been in the Stanley Cup finals; full out, going for broke, leaving nothing behind and putting it all on the line. Whenever you’ve been checked into the boards, tripped up on the ice or had your front teeth literally knocked out playing hockey, nothing has slowed you down or ever dampened the great spirit within you. You are a champion in the fight, our Leonidas at the Pass, our Gray Wolf in Yellowstone. Bold, untamed with a full throated howl of defiance and joy.”
Jeff Klausman writes that Sandy had much to be proud of. “You went to the mat for this place and I am extremely grateful for that. I was proud both at your side and at your feet, learning from your lead how to handle tough adversaries. You are a real mentor to me. And I know I am not alone. So many of us took your lead on standing tall, proud and strong on the issues that really matter to this place and our wild brothers and sisters. Few people have the stamina or conviction to stand in the heat and take punches meeting after meeting, year after year to slowly move the needle of progress. But you did and it inspires me. It was easier to join in the fight when I knew you were involved. Your marks are indelible and this place is better because of you.”
On a lighter side Amy Verbeten recalls a time when driving through town with her daughter she waved to Sandy. Greta exclaimed, “Mom!! Was that Santa Claus?!?! You know him?” He loved that story.
And Peter Barret remembers a time when his young son was visiting us and Mr. Meat, as Sandy was known, told Alex’s vegetarian girlfriend “Go out back and graze on some thistle, while I throw a steak on the barbie!” That was Sandy. Lovingly irreverent at times. Roger Rose loved the big bear hug that Sandy embraced him with upon first meeting him and Patti Barrett wanted people to know that to her for the past 53 years Sandy was the friend she could turn to for comfort and a listening heart. “Losing him is losing a brother.”
A lifelong friend who was on the Compass Rose with Sandy when it pitchpoled in the South Atlantic, Mary Schneider, writes that Sandy, whom she calls Mase, “was so kind and lion hearted. He listened and he cared and he made you feel like you were a friend to him. He had an instinctive river of compassion and empathy. He found interest in everything, absurdity in asininity and a booming delight in it all.”
John Unland, with whom Sandy had a deep connection, will tell you that Sandy never met a person he couldn’t connect with in a genuine way and though he isn’t here now, he is Everywhere in our Valley. His commitment and dedication to maintaining and protecting our valley’s character was his life’s work. John asks that as you go about your day today know that if you look around, that Sandy Mason has touched your life and that of all of us.
Sandy Mason was a gentle giant, a fearless happy warrior and a gracious spirit.
He was also, my beloved husband. We were best friends.