About Us

In Celebration of Bob Graham

Audubon’s Charles Lee shares his remembrance of Bob Graham’s early and strategic environmental leadership.

Charles Lee is Audubon Florida’s unofficial “elder statesman,” now in his 52nd year on Audubon’s staff, serving as Director of Advocacy. From the start of Charles’ career, Bob Graham was an essential partner and important conservation thought leader. Here Charles shares a remembrance of Graham’s strategic environmental leadership during his early elected years in the Florida Legislature, and how the effects of that leadership continue to be felt today.

Today, as former Florida Senator and Governor Bob Graham lies in state at the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee, Audubon remembers his leadership and contributions to conservation in the Sunshine State.

Most of what the public knows about Bob Graham relates to his two terms as Florida Governor from 1979 to 1987, and his terms as U.S. Senator from Florida between 1987 and 2005. But long before that, Bob Graham had become a compelling leader in efforts to protect Florida’s environment.

My first interactions with Bob Graham began 52 years ago, in 1972, when he was a State Senator from Miami-Dade County. Graham sponsored Senate Bill 629, the “Florida Land and Water Management Act,” which created the state’s authority to protect “Areas of Critical Concern” such as the Green Swamp, the Florida Keys, and the Big Cypress.

At the time, I was in my early 20’s, and just learning how policy gets made. The experience and example of Bob Graham in that moment was formative for me and has influenced my 52+ year career in conservation advocacy since.

Just before the passage of Graham’s bill, opponents succeeded in saddling the legislation with what they thought would be a “poison pill” amendment – before the “Areas of Critical Concern” program could go into effect, Florida voters would be required to approve a $200,000,000 bond issue for the purchase of affected lands. The opponents believed that Florida voters would never go for that and would kill the bill.

But Graham turned that setback into a double win. He launched a campaign to approve the unexpected bond referendum in the November 1972 election. I joined with environmental group leaders around the state visiting editorial boards and appearing on radio talk shows at Graham’s request. Ultimately, the voters responded with resounding approval with more than 70% voting in favor of the referendum, which Graham had branded as the “Lands for You” campaign.

As an outgrowth of the referendum campaign, Graham was able to establish the “Conservation and Recreation Lands” program. Once elected Governor in 1979, Graham used the momentum in favor of conservation land efforts to launch the “Save our Rivers,” and “Save our Coasts” programs.

Florida is much better off thanks to Bob Graham. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. 

How you can help, right now