A little over five years ago I met one of the most influential people that the SAWS family would ever know. I didn’t realize it at the time, and my guess is he will try and deny it now - but without Jimmy Gaudry, SAWS would not be where it is today, and we would not be driving forward to ever greater heights.
About the time Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards was transitioning from an idea to reality, Jimmy was settling into his new role as the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Program Manager for Region 8 of the United States Forest Service. We met over breakfast during an Appalachian Trail Regional Partnership meeting, and began a partnership and shared vision that lasts to this day. That breakfast also started a connection beyond shared goals, a friendship grounded in a mutual love of Wilderness and a real joy in working together as friends.
Partnerships, successful ones, can never be neglected, one-sided, or without common purpose. That idea was never in doubt in growing the SAWS/Forest Service enterprise. Jimmy kept a clear eye on what the partnership could be, keeping me from slipping into tunnel-vision. He was also always open to hearing how things could evolve for stewardship without closing ranks within the structure of the agency.
This week Jimmy picks up and takes his talents to serve the great folks and the amazing landscapes of the Northern Rockies. With big Wilderness to steward, Jimmy brings big ideas and a comfortable southern way.
It will be weird to forge ahead without our almost daily conversations. It will be a true kick-in-the-gut next May as we gather for the 6th Annual Wilderness Skills Institute without Jimmy there to share a beer with, or to keep my antics under control. But, it will be because of him, and his commitment to partnership that we will gather those two weeks to share, learn and grow as a community.
On his last night of hosting The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had this to say “it is not a good-bye, but merely a pause in the conversation”. That is how I picture this new opportunity for Jimmy, and new reality for me, a mere pause in the conversation. I look forward to picking up that conversation with new ideas and new ways to work together across time zones and thousands of miles. There will always be a cornerstone of the SAWS foundation with Jimmy’s name on it, and for that I am grateful and very proud. You will be missed my friend - happy trails.