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Becky Tarbotton, head of the Rainforest Action Network, dies in accident in Mexico

Rebecca Tarbotton, the executive director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) died Wednesday. She was 39.

Tarbotton died in rough surf off a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where she was vacationing with her husband and friends. According to RAN, “the coroner ruled cause of death as asphyxiation from water she breathed in while swimming.”

Becky Tarbotton, 1973-2012.

Tarbotton’s biography from RAN

Tarbotton was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on July, 30, 1973. She assumed the leadership role of the activist group in August 2010 after three years with the organization.

Under Tarbotton’s leadership RAN achieved several high profile “victories”, including a recent commitment from Disney to adopt a strict paper sourcing policy that excludes fiber produced via destruction of tropical rainforests. Disney’s policy came after eight children’s book publishers pledged to eliminate “controversial” fiber from their supply chains. RAN has also campaigned aggressively against companies using palm oil linked to deforestation as well as banks financing coal mining and tar sands extraction.

Tarbotton’s passing was immediately mourned by environmentalists and rights activists.

“Our hearts are broken. We lost a powerful, transformative leader this week. The Rainforest Action Network was her home, but the world was her stage, and her future was so incredibly bright,” said Andre Carothers, Chair of the Board of Directors at Rainforest Action Network, in a prepared statement. “We can do nothing more right now than love her, her family, her husband, and her friends and colleagues. We know how much she meant to so many.”

“Becky was an emerging star who was galvanizing an ever-growing movement of people demanding environment and social change,” added Nell Greenberg, spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. “She believed that to protect forests and our communities we must protect our climate, and to protect our climate we must protect the forests.”

“Becky was a leader’s leader. She could walk into the White House and cause a corporate titan to reevaluate his perspective, and then moments later sit down with leaders from other movements and convince them to follow her lead,” said Ben Jealous, Executive Director of the NAACP, in an emailed statement. “If we had more heroes like her, America and the world would be a much better place.”

Tarbotton is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford; her brothers Jesse and Cameron Tarbotton, and her mother, Mary Tarbotton, of Vancouver, BC. RAN says her ashes will be scattered off Hornby Island in British Columbia where her family owns a cabin and where she spent much time with family and friends. Public memorial services will be held in San Francisco, CA and in Vancouver. Dates are yet to be determined.

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