david getches

David Getches, Founding Board Chair

As the founding board chair of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, David Getches was steadfast in his 10 years on the board, growing our organization from a small legal nonprofit into an important regional voice for advancing clean energy, protecting healthy rivers, and conserving western lands. David brought to WRA his wealth of experience from teaching at CU Law School, heading up the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and co-founding the Native American Rights Fund. We are blessed that such an industrious and talented spirit helped launch our work.

congressional record

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, a few days ago, I came to the Senate floor to honor one of Colorado’s great educators and community leaders, David Getches, who passed away on Tuesday, July 5, 2011, at the too-young age of 68. Today, I would like to add further to my earlier remarks so that I may provide an even fuller picture of David’s life.

This is more than a poignant moment for me. I originally had planned to come to the floor to discuss David’s career and character because he was stepping down after 8 very productive years as the dean of the University of Colorado Law School.

We all have had this terrible experience in our lives when somebody whom we love and respect suddenly finds they have a cancer that is aggressive–beyond aggressive. Literally a month ago, David was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In the 4 weeks since that time, that cancer stole him from us. But he was always upbeat. He was always someone who we looked to for enthusiasm and inspiration. I will be inspired in my remarks by what he did. I will attempt not to dwell on his loss.

As I said, David served as dean of the Colorado Law School for the last 8 years. With him at the helm, CU Law became one of the most forward-looking institutions of legal training in the country. I want to share a few examples of his vision and leadership. I could not cover all of them if I had a full hour. I want to share some of them with the Senate and with his friends and admirers in Colorado.

He steered the law school through the construction of the new LEED Gold Certified Wolf Law Building, which put CU and its law school at the cutting edge of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency–two ideas that were connected to the values that David was committed to fostering throughout his career. David previously served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and as an adviser to the Interior Secretary in the Clinton administration. He had an extensive background in water, environmental, and public lands law. Through his work, David impressed upon all Coloradans the importance of good stewardship of our State’s precious natural resources.

I am not a lawyer, but I do know David’s efforts to teach and share the legal framework that protects our resources could not have been more critical to preserving our Western way of life.

David left a lasting impression on the demographic composition of CU Law School. He was committed to a student body composed of people from many different backgrounds and cultures, and that commitment made an indelible impact on the school and on Colorado’s legal community. In 2008, the Hispanic Bar Association awarded him their Community Service Award for increasing Hispanic enrollment, and he also assembled one of the most diverse administrative teams of any law school in the country. He didn’t stop there, however. He then created a commission to produce a groundbreaking report on diversity in the legal profession and how to increase diversity in law firm recruitment. The highly skilled and diverse alumni of the CU Law School reflect his efforts and successes.

Moreover, David built a legacy of access to legal education for all. He worked to expand scholarship and financial aid awarded by the law school to worthy students regardless of their financial background, increasing scholarship awards from $600,000 in 2004 to a hefty $2.1 million in 3 short years by 2007. This came during a period of time where David expanded alumni giving and oversaw a 110-percent increase in the law school’s endowment. And all the while, he continued to recruit and retain top-notch faculty to guide students in their legal education and produce world-class scholarship.

In 2008, David worked with the Colorado State Legislature to pass a law allowing public universities to offer loan repayment assistance grants to graduates practicing public interest law and more recently founded an endowment to award grants to CU Law School graduates in the public sector. These actions reflected David’s strong belief in training and inspiring future leaders to give back to their communities.

What David did by reducing the cost of law school was to make public service a viable alternative to private practice for bright, idealist graduates of the law school. Without question, those students, CU Law School, the State of Colorado, and I would venture to say the country will reap the benefits in the future from David’s foresight and thoughtful investments.

David’s contributions went beyond his tenure as dean, and he had more than an academic interest in the critical issues of our time, especially environmental practices, civil rights, and social justice. He put his social and conservation ethics to work every day, using the law to foster a fair and livable world. As a very young attorney with California Indian Legal Services, David represented tribal members in the State of Washington who were being arrested for exercising their centuries-old treaty rights to fish. David, alongside his clients, devised a strategy to breathe life into the legal promises made to tribes, and the results he achieved changed the face of fisheries and water management in the Northwest. His legal work helped create modern Indian law and will have an everlasting imprint on natural resource management in the Northwest. He later became the founding executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to tribal sovereignty, economic self-determination, and defense of treaty rights.

David was passionate about protection of the environment, especially the spectacular landscapes, wild country, and treasured wildlife of the West. As a water law expert, David was visionary with respect to the changing needs of the West. He had a particular devotion to the Colorado River Basin and strove to find ways to meet human demands for the river’s waters while conserving its fish and wildlife and other environmental values. He expressed his love for the West through service on the board of directors of the Grand Canyon Trust, the Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. He was the founding board chair of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, now called Western Resource Advocates, and helped grow that fledgling organization into an important regional voice for clean energy and wise stewardship of the region’s lands and waters. He gave his time, energy, and thoughtful creativity to each organization and all have expressed gratitude for his wise counsel.

It is also worth noting that even the vast expanse of the Western United States could not contain David. He even taught himself Spanish and published papers and books in that language, influencing water and natural resources legal developments in Central and South America.

I cannot help but feel that David was the living expression of the best of our ideals, a man of character and kindness, a modest but tireless achiever who preferred to be measured by his work, not by the accolades awarded by others. We were honored by his friendship and blessed by his many gifts.

At the heart of why I wanted to come to the floor today is that I think we know we can all learn from David’s passion for giving back to whatever community in which he found himself. He led a life of service, and he also compiled an impressive academic record as well as serving as the dean of CU Law School. David cared about justice for disenfranchised communities just as strongly as he cared about the long-term health and sustainability of our natural resources. To David, these matters were intertwined. He was, at his core, committed to the future of his children, our children, our grandchildren, and his grandchildren, and he had a deep love for the Rocky Mountain Western way of life. He was an avid outdoorsman, he was fit, and he faced any and all physical challenges just like he faced intellectual and emotional challenges. As I said in the beginning of my remarks, he was a mentor to all of us, and he always had his eye on the future. I know, as painful as it is for all of us who knew him to lose him so suddenly, he would want us to be focused on the future.

David did this and much more for Colorado and our country, and I just want to close with this. We have lost a unique man and a towering Colorado figure.