Goodbye to Caroline Gibson

For the second time in a couple of months, we have lost a huge force in the environmental protection of the Strait. The sudden death of Kurt Grinnell was shocking enough. But this time it’s Caroline Gibson, a woman who’s smile powered real change in this corner of the country. Caroline died after a long struggle with cancer. She leaves a hole that cannot be easily filled, both in those who worked with her and those who called her a friend. 

Caroline Gibson

Caroline’s defining characteristic was her smile and almost limitless positive energy. She helped define the Northwest Straits Foundation as it struggled to keep itself afloat after the Great Recession. The Northwest Straits has been a part of this area since 1998, when Patty Murray and the late Jack Metcalf lead a bi-partisan effort to create an earmark under NOAA to fund it. The goal was to enable citizen involvement in protecting the Strait. It has worked well enough to have established many Marine Resource Committees at the county level in the Northern Sound, and launch an incredibly successful project to remove derelict commercial fishing nets from the Straits. Caroline was a force behind those efforts. 

It seems unfathomable to think that she is gone. Every time I stopped by the house she shared with her partner Walt, she was always a well spring of good cheer. “Let’s have a glass of wine!”, was her happy answer to any issue that was cropping up. And over that glass she would often lay out the history of an issue,  the players behind it and her ideas on what was needed. She loved the Straits, the ocean and all it shelters. 

The work of any environmental activist is exhausting, having to endure hundreds of hours of dreary meetings, endless fundraising, and seeing politicians get elected who distinctly have no interest in protecting the environment. But I never heard Caroline do anything but look for ways to solve the problem. 

My sincere condolences to her family and friends. We all loved Caroline. 


Don Hunger took over the NW Straits Foundation when it became clear that Caroline’s illness was making it impossible to do day to day work. He had this to say today on the Foundations web site

Celebrating The Life Of Caroline Gibson

The Salish Sea is a better place because of all that Caroline Gibson gave during her lifetime. She worked selflessly to build a diverse community of passionate individuals, organizations and agencies who are committed to restoring its coastlines, cleaning its waters, and preserving its habitat. All so wildlife and humans can enjoy the Salish Sea’s life-sustaining benefits for generations to come.

During her career in the Northwest Straits, Caroline served as a member of the Jefferson Marine Resources Committee, as the Marine Program Manager at the Northwest Straits Commission, and as Executive Director of the Northwest Straits Foundation. Her spark and passion inspired others to not just talk about marine conservation, but to roll up their sleeves and do it!

She formed the Salish Sea International Kelp Alliance increasing awareness, understanding and support for kelp as critical habitat. She worked with commercial fisherman on ways to reduce lost gear and mitigate impacts to marine wildlife. And, she was a great storyteller developing shared values and relationships.

As I celebrate her life, I see the color of sea blue with my eyes closed. That deep twinkling blue that water makes when light pierces it from a clear sky. The way salt water blue shifts when a lens of freshwater seeps in from a shoreline ledge. Like when I was a kid and mom said the North Atlantic was too cold, even in summer. But I leapt in anyway because the water deep down was shimmering like diamonds.

Caroline will always be in the water. Or on the shoreline calling us to jump in. Following the color of water down to where the salmon swim and the crabs skitter along sideways through eel grass pretending not to see us in an eternal hide and seek. We’ll swim until our skin is taut and numb, with the exquisite taste of bright salty water on our tongues.

It’s difficult to understand that Caroline’s not here. That somehow, she wasn’t one who miraculously overcame cancer. Even after two years of saying “I’m still here” with a twinkle in her eye and witty smile on her lips; that it wore her down. Us too. We all would stop it from taking her too soon if we could.

Caroline’s spirit filled a room. You didn’t have to know her to feel it. She simply radiated a joy for thinking, learning, and sharing life on a different frequency than the rest of us. I’m convinced that even the orcas and the crabs could feel it.

Looking out on the blue waters of the Salish Sea there’s comfort in knowing her spirit will always be there, and her work will be carried on by all of us.

Don Hunger, Executive Director

July 12, 2021

3 Responses

  1. Thanks so much Al for this tribute, she was a true force of nature and will be missed by so many in our town.

  2. A beautiful tribute to a bright shining star of a lady. Thank you.

  3. The more I got to know Caroline, the more I was impressed. She will definitely be missed.


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