In Memory of Michael McIntosh

We remember Michael McIntosh, who passed away on May 7, for his lifetime of service, commitment to social issues, and a career dedicated to the environment, civil rights and public interest law.

Michael McIntosh worked tirelessly to protect the heritage of the stunning Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
“The roadless rule will help small businesses like ours,” said Hunter McIntosh of The Boat Company, which operates a small tour business in the region. “The natural values of intact watersheds are essential for the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska. Very few folks will pay to go see clearcuts and decaying logging roads. There are thousands of jobs in Southeast Alaska in recreation and tourism. And there are thousands more in the seafood industry, which depends critically on salmon spawning streams in the old growth forests of the Tongass.” (NancyS / Shutterstock)

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Michael McIntosh needs no memorial to honor his lifetime of service. He already has one—the Tongass National Forest—so big it can be seen from space, and filled with natural riches that Michael spent much of his life and family resources  protecting.

But helping save countless wild creatures and ancient trees is only part of the legacy this bright, generous, passionate man left behind when he passed on May 7. Born to wealth, Mike also inherited his family’s commitment to social issues, and created a career dedicated to the environment, civil rights and public interest law.

“He was something of a larger-than-life-person,” recalls Buck Parker, who was executive director of Earthjustice during one of Mike’s two terms as trustee with the organization. “His father had been very active in bankrolling legal defense of the civil rights movement, and Mike saw how the use of law also could be applied to the environmental movement.”

The McIntosh family owns The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) and founded the McIntosh Foundation, which Mike assumed leadership of in 1971. He would build it into one of the most respected private foundations dealing with the environment and public interest law. His sense of social responsibility was rooted in family values that stressed sustainability and giving back to a world that made their good fortune possible.

Mike developed his life’s passion for Alaskan wilderness when, as a teenager, he worked on A&P fishing boats in Alaska. It was a passion he’d fully embrace after first traveling among emerging and impoverished countries, seeing firsthand the vulnerability of our world’s natural resources and the need to help disenfranchised people. He also spent some years in the oil and gas business, and working for A&P in the Middle East. He married Winsome Dunn in 1967.

He would eventually start his own Alaskan nonprofit boat touring venture, The Boat Company, which he used as a way to expose influential people from around the United States to the irreplaceable wonders of the Tongass, America’s largest national forest. Thus, he was able to build a base of supporters who could be counted on to advocate in their congressional districts on behalf of the Tongass when industrial exploiters threatened its old-growth forests and the abundance of wildlife they support.

It was through his love of the Tongass that Michael partnered with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which later became Earthjustice. One of his most important efforts was helping establish the organization’s first Alaska office in Juneau, where he worked closely with Eric Jorgensen, the current managing attorney.

Says Eric, “Through the Boat Company and his work as trustee, Mike was involved in litigation aimed at protecting many wild places from old growth logging, and in the process contributed to the closure of two damaging pulp mills and ending their long term contracts.” 

Eric remembers Michael as a loyal supporter who was “passionate, direct, relentless and focused. A very generous man who was so active in so many ways beyond the U.S. and in other important fights. He made a difference in a lot of them.”

Aside from Earthjustice, Michael worked with many other environmental and social justice organizations over the decades. His foundation has provided more than 1,200 grants to nonprofit groups, and Mike personally served on the boards of the Medgar Evers Fund, National Audubon Society, the National Commission on Superfund, The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Urban League of Palm Beach County, Physicians for Peace, Southern Legal Counsel and Florida State University Foundation. He was founder and director of ClientEarth, the first public interest law firm for the environment established in Europe.

His many awards and recognitions include:

  • the Founder of Justice Award from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice;
  • a Resolution of Recognition from the University of Florida Levin College of Law for founding the Center for Government Responsibility and the initial Executive Impoundment Project, which successfully won the landmark Supreme Court case declaring the impoundment of congressional mandated funding for education unconstitutional during the Nixon Administration;
  • a Community Service award from the Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach;
  • a service award of the Chicago Legal Clinic;
  • the United Church of Christ’s Racial Justice Award;
  • and an athletic building named after him in honor of his contributions to the track & field program at Florida State University.

As described by his own foundation, “Michael has been a presence, both as an individual and a foundation officer, in the flowering of the modern environmental movement and in the field of public interest law, cultivating creative solutions to deeply rooted social and economic problems.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, May 18 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., followed by a reception at the Cosmos Club between 4 and 6 p.m.

Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”