Ulrich von Eitzen, Operations Director of Greenpeace International from 2004 until 2013 and then a senior advisor to the Executive Director’s Office, finally lost his battle with cancer last Thursday, 12 June, 2014.
The way he reacted to cancer was typically Uli, as his friends called him. If one would not have known him, one would never have suspected that he had a lethal illness. He did not complain, he did not speak about his health, he did not show his sadness or his desperation. To assume, however, that he was a cool, unemotional man, could not have been further from the truth. The sparkle in his eyes, the energy with which he approached his work, and the warmth with which he talked about his family told another story–the story of a passionate man, who simply did not wear his emotions on his sleeve.
He was quite old fashioned in many ways. He had an enormous sense of duty. He held the conviction that he should not burden others with his difficulties and he believed that he should give all to his family and to his work. Love, for him, was not a word, it was expressed through what he did. A former colleague of his, Grace O’Sullivan, a long standing Irish activist summed it all up in one single sentence: “He is a good man.”
When Uli joined Greenpeace for the second time after a brief stint in the 90s he faced a difficult task to reconcile the great tradition of courageous activism with the increasing demands for professionalism. There was a time when Greenpeace could buy an old ship and convert it with a few volunteers. But not least because of Greenpeace’s work, standards in shipping had become stricter and the organisation could simply not afford to have ships with lower standards than what was demanded of others. Uli, who had both a strong professional background in shipping and a strong commitment to Greenpeace’s mission, was probably one of the few people, who was up to the task. It was not easy and he did not make it easy for his colleagues. He stood up for what he knew was needed, he was not one for compromises. His work, his dedication meant that the fleet of Greenpeace achieved such a high standard that it was not only fit for purpose, but could also not be faulted by authorities unfriendly to Greenpeace.
Uli’s biggest and lasting contribution to Greenpeace was the building of the new Rainbow Warrior. Here his skills and his passions came together. He organised a thorough process by which Greenpeace staff and offices expressed their needs for the new sailing ship. He then organised and oversaw the design process, being a competent and reliable partner of naval architects. Once the decision to build the new ship was made, he was a supreme project manager, who achieved what is both difficult and rare in big projects: to finish on time and within budget. Without his highly organised work, his ability to commission and control, his financial and technical oversight, the new Rainbow Warrior would not have become the marvelous new flagship of Greenpeace, which now continues the proud tradition of its two namesakes.
And yet, while Uli brought supreme professionalism to the building of the Rainbow Warrior, his real passion was not in building a new ship. It was in building a green ship. Uli, who could be very critical and sceptical at times, had a great enthusiasm for finding solutions, for improving and inventing. A large part of his professional life was in renewable energy technology and he dedicated himself with all his energy and will to the task of making the new Rainbow Warrior a ship that could both express a commitment to the proud Greenpeace tradition of direct action and be a vision for the future.
The new Rainbow Warrior is the best and most fitting memorial for this brave and good man.
Dr. Gerd Leipold was Executive Director of Greenpeace International from 2001 to 2009.
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