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John Arum, a lawyer and activist, lived passionately and fully

John Arum was an advocate for wilderness protection. - Courtesy Photo
John Arum was an advocate for wilderness protection.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

A small cabinet at the end of a gravel driveway on 105th Avenue S.W. is surrounded by flowers, banners, photos and cards, a bright spot of color against the gray and overcast sky. As a breeze picks up, candles flicker atop the makeshift memorial, casting light on a photo of a man grinning from ear to ear.

Inside the cabinet, more cards and pages of notebooks hold reflections on a life that ended too soon.

John Arum, 49, a renowned lawyer, outdoor enthusiast, environmental activist and beloved Islander, died last week while climbing a challenging 8,500-foot peak in the North Cascades, leaving holes in the hearts of those who knew him.

Friends, colleagues and relatives spoke of Mr. Arum as a principled and passionate man who opted for a career in environmental law because he wanted to make a difference but was also as happy in the woods looking for birds as he was in the courtroom arguing a case.

“One of the greatest gifts John has given me and (that) was a shared part of our relationship was a deep passion for the wilderness,” Susan Hormann, his wife of 11 years, said in a statement.

Mr. Arum, an attorney with the Seattle firm Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim, specialized in tribal law but also skillfully represented the state on a number of sensitive environmental issues. He also served on the board of the Washington Environmental Council, a leading environmental organization, and the Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society.

“He was one of the greatest environmental lawyers in the state,” said Islander Matt Bergman, who attended Reed College with Arum and has known him for 30 years.

Bergman said Mr. Arum formed a close relationship with the Makah tribe, representing them in matters related to fishing and whaling rights for 20 years, and was even inducted into the tribe as an honorary member.

“He decided very, very early on in his career that he didn’t want to make the big bucks, although he had the intellectual acumen to do that. … He made the career choice to do the kind of legal work that he enjoyed and that was meaningful to him,” Bergman said.

Peter Goldman, a Seattle attorney and environmental activist who has joined with Arum on a number of cases and was working with him on one when he died, said he was constantly inspired not only by Mr. Arum’s sound judgment and strong leadership but also by the dedication with which he pursued causes he believed in. He often donated his time to matters that concerned tribal rights or environmental preservation.

“There is a short list of people who affect the way you were, the way you turn out in life. For me, John is on that list, right up there with my dad,” Goldman said.

Islander Joseph Bogaard, outreach director for Save Our Wild Salmon, knew Mr. Arum both professionally and personally; they were close friends who often climbed together. He, too, expressed high regard for Mr. Arum’s legal skills.

“The irony is that despite John’s excellent conservation values and advocacy, we sometimes lined up on opposite sides in the courtroom,” Bogaard said. “Despite that, my respect and affection for John never wavered. … He was a courageous guy and willing to take positions that were uncomfortable. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his ability to do that.”

On Vashon, Mr. Arum, a native of New York City, acted as a key player during the early years of Preserve Our Islands’ battle against Glacier Northwest’s efforts to dramatically expand its sand-and-gravel mine on Maury Island. As the organization’s first lawyer, he helped it win a critical stay in King County Superior Court, stopping dock construction while Preserve Our Islands’ first legal appeals went forward.

Amy Carey, head of Preserve Our Islands, said that Mr. Arum’s efforts gave the organization the foothold it needed to move forward.

“Without that stay, we may well have lost Maury for good,” she said. “John’s work gave us that fighting chance.”

Mr. Arum was working to meet a personal goal of climbing the 100 highest peaks in Washington and had summitted more than 80 when he apparently fell while nearing the top of Storm King Peak in a remote corner of the North Cascades National Park. A search began last Monday when he failed to make it home Sunday night, his 11th wedding anniversary.

Whether climbing a mountain with friends, backcountry skiing or kayaking with his wife, Bogaard said Mr. Arum clearly felt at home in the outdoors and was always up for an adventure. At the same time, Bogaard said, Mr. Arum undertook his activities with a tremendous amount of skill and judgment and was a leader who looked out for both himself and others. Mr. Arum, Bogaard added, was the most experienced and accomplished mountain climber he knew.

“When we were out together in larger parties, he was always very conscientious about making sure that everyone was as well informed and trained as possible,” Bogaard said. “He was also cautious and looked out for the interests of everyone in the party.”

Bogaard, along with other Islanders, spoke of Mr. Arum’s warmth and friendliness and how he enjoyed catching up with him on their daily ferry commute, when they’d talk of law, conservation and their weekend adventures.

“I think the thing that’s going to be hardest is looking around on the boat and having to catch myself to realize he’s not going to be there. … It’s a huge hole for me and I know it’s a huge hole for many people on the Island, in the state and in his family,” Bogaard said.

Hormann, a massage therapist who is also well-loved on the Island, said in her statement to The Beachcomber that her husband died pursing something he enjoyed and that his passion for the outdoors was something the two of them shared during their time together.

“Every time I step outside, I feel John and his love around me with the birds calling and the wind blowing through the fir trees. John died doing one of the things he loved most: climbing a beautiful mountain in solitude where he felt completely at home and nourished,” Hormann said.

Hormann also expressed gratitude that the Island community Mr. Arum loved so much has now served as a support to her, working to honor Mr. Arum’s memory and provide for her needs.

“John loved this Island and the extended family that enriched our lives,” she said. “That family has now reached out and surrounded me with its tremendous support during this time.”

A memorial service will be held in Seattle on Oct. 2 at a place and time to be announced. An on-Island memorial is being planned and will be announced soon.

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