A Local Hero


August 21, 2008
West Marin Citizen


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When I was in college there was a member of the Boston City Council by the name of Christopher Iannella. He was not always what you might call a fount of enlightened utterance. But one day he said something that made me pause. “Everybody wants to go to heaven,” he said, “but nobody wants to die.” We all want things to be better. We just want someone else to make the sacrifices and do the work – and by sacrifice I mean not just material comforts, but pet beliefs and grudges too.

We here in West Marin are not exempt. Around the time of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, there was a peace demonstration in Point Reyes Station,. It wasn’t clear who remained to be convinced, but what the heck. Someone in front of the Bovine made a comment (okay, that was one), and a women in the group lashed out like a Stinger missile. She was marching for peace but she didn’t seem to have much of it herself. Perhaps there was a connection.

And so more broadly. Who out here does not feel superior to politics in Washington? Yet I have observed backbiting, scheming, self-righteousness and malicious gossip that comes close to what I experienced back there. You don’t want to hear this but I’m going to say it anyway. Washington is the way it is, in part because we are the way we are. I know about corporations, campaign money and the rest. Still, it starts with number one, folks.

But today I have the pleasure of writing about an exception. It’s Wiebke Buxbaum, who for years has been the guiding light of the Village Association, and who last week handed off the baton. I haven’t always agreed with Wiebke. At times I have found her use of procedure (she’s a retired lawyer) borderline exasperating.

But I’ve had to admire Wiebke too. In my experience she is always the most prepared person in the room, by several miles. She knows the facts, the law, the social and political context; and she musters these with clarity, precision and – blessedly for community meetings – economy of expression, (It has crossed my mind that these qualities might be partly a residue of the time when female lawyers had to be twice as good as their male counterparts. I’m sure Wiebke more than held her own.)

Wiebke also is so quiet and consistent – and persistent too -– that you can start to take her for granted. She alluded to this at the meeting last week, when she noted how members of organizations tend to slack off when they know that someone else is doing the work. It didn’t take many layers of unwrapping to sense whom she was talking about. Perhaps most important, Wiebke is always on the issue. I have never seen her personalize, or indulge in an emotional outburst or ad hominem attack.

That kind of restraint is not always in evidence in our local politics, and I don’t think that observation needs much unwrapping either. At the personal level I do not know Wiebke well. Still, she always smiles and says hello when I pass her at the Post Office or on her daily walks along Mesa Road. That’s regardless of what might have happened at the latest Village Association meeting. I can’t say the same about everyone in town with whom I have disagreed. (Maybe it’s my fault too. We all can do better.)

At the Village Association meeting last week Wiebke said something that I will not soon forget. She was speaking on behalf of a new slate of officers that a special committee had proposed to replace the current leadership, herself included. There were concerns from the floor, understandably, and Wiebke sought to put them to rest. She said that she did not agree with the proposed new president, John Gouldthorpe, on every issue. “But that is good,” she added. “Change is good.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but close. When you consider how contentious the Village Association purview is – does anything get people so riled up out here as land use? – and how much time and toil Weibke has invested, it was a lesson in grace and class. Wiebke, you get my Christopher Iannella award. There is a special heaven for those who take hold tightly, but then let go lightly. Your service isn’t over, You just won’t have to carry so much of the load yourself.