Beloved Conservationist Passes On at 94

Joe Whitworth
Joe Whitworth

On my second day running what was then Oregon Trout at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 3, 2000, a purposeful white-haired man walked through the front door, up the stairs toward the fly-fishing library, and then turned into my office. He brought me a sheet of paper with a quote on it and demanded I read it.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.                           

—Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

A fan of quotes, I had seen this one before, but admittedly had never had it put to me as a command to read while being stood over. The power of the words combined with the intentionality of this guy began a relationship that would end up shaping how I run this organization today.

New to a set of issues that he had spent the better part of his life contemplating, I was coming in to an organization that he helped found decades before. Observers noted that he became re-energized at my engagement in the enterprise, but in truth I only saw his full-throttle energy and deep commitment. From my perspective, this purposeful man, Roger Bachman, was a great and kind sage. Steady state.

He taught me how to row the tricky cross-current to his cabin on the Deschutes after I botched it so hard the first time. He was known by all of us at The Freshwater Trust as someone you could rely upon to provide honest feedback and unwavering support whether the organization was growing or facing a setback. Bachman was a partner as I brained through new ideas.

Roger's Cabin

Over his lifetime, he taught hundreds how to fly fish. Many of our scientists, administrative staff, writers and fundraisers all pulled on waders for the first time outside his cabin on the banks of the Deschutes. The ties between them and our mission were braided tightly on those trips – when they felt the current on their legs and their first tight line. It was Roger who facilitated these experiences. Photos from those trips are plastered throughout his kitchen and dining room. When not on the river, he wrote letters of support to his friends and contacts, sharing with them the enthusiasm he held for The Freshwater Trust’s ability to get results for wild fish.

From Left to Right: Sharon Petras, Nick Osman, Roger Bachman, Monique Leslie and Julia Bond

In the ICU the day after his stroke, I took a pink steelhead fly and put it in his one working hand — and he repositioned it knowingly. A week later, around 7:00 a.m. on Friday, March 9, 2018, he left for the river one final time. The night before he passed, we had held our annual benefit to fix rivers in the West, and he was among those honored for his conservation ethic.

This organization is not only stronger because of his involvement over the course of three decades, it exists because he, along with a couple other fly fishermen decided to fundraise $100 from 100 people to get Oregon Trout off the ground in 1983.

He’s made a life of pulling people closer to their ultimate meanings; closer to understanding the path they are on. One of our staff reminded me of this when she heard of his passing:

For two days Roger tested me, teased me, and lovingly challenged me. He wasn’t shy about the fact that I was the only woman out there, and that there weren’t enough young women involved in the wonderful sport. Instead, he made it a theme of the trip – in a good way. He was equally supportive as he was critical and he got such a kick out of the fact that I caught a bigger fish than our General Counsel.

On the last day of the trip, we walked together back towards the cabin amongst a huge salmon fly hatch. The sun was setting and I was trying to remove a salmon fly that was relentlessly clinging to my hair. All of the sudden he stopped, turned to me and said, “The purpose of life is to find your gift. The meaning of life is to give it away.”

I walked away from that trip feeling empowered, thankful, and with a stronger sense of purpose for the path in life I’ve chosen. I’m grateful for the meaningful work I do and for the opportunity to have met Roger. I’ll never forget our time on the river together.

Roger floating with staff down the Deschutes

March 14, 2018

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