Bob Hunter

Co-founder of Greenpeace
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The Independent Online

Robert Hunter, journalist and environmental activist: born St Boniface, Manitoba 13 October 1941; President, Greenpeace 1973-77;married 1963 Zoe Rahim (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1976 Bobbi Innes (one son, one daughter); died Toronto, Ontario 2 May 2005.

Bob Hunter invented modern environmental campaigning. He devised the template by which Greenpeace, which he helped found 35 years ago and later chaired, became the dominant environmental "brand" for two generations of campaigners. The image of long-haired idealists taking on the world in tiny rubber inflatable boats - placing themselves between the whale and the harpoon, sailing into nuclear testing zones in the South Pacific and clambering aboard the rusting Brent Spar oil-rig - was his creation.

Hunter was born in 1941 in St Boniface, near Winnipeg, the son of a truck-driver. He filled his childhood writing science-fiction stories, and developed a fear of nuclear attack. He became a journalist and on an early assignment he badly injured his back while skydiving, leaving him in pain thereafter.

As a counter-culture correspondent for the Vancouver Sun, he befriended the beat poet Allen Ginsberg and mixed with pacifists and draft dodgers fleeing to the Canadian border city from the United States. In 1969 he joined a group called the Don't Make A Wave Committee, formed in Vancover to campaign against US nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean; he was on board the Phyllis Cormack on the first protest voyage in 1971.

From the start he had a gift for mythologising, not always consistently. After protests on the US-Canadian border, at which he spoke, he wrote in his newspaper column:

Who are we? A collection of very proper and respectable and decently paid and serious and a bit less than illiterate citizens, some professors and some ministers and housewives.

But writing of the same event later, in his book The Greenpeace Chronicle (1980), he said they were

street freaks and Marxists and Maoists and Trotskyites and Yippies and members of the radical Vancouver Liberation Front . . . draft dodgers and deserters.

The Don't Make A Wave Committee reformed in 1971 as Greenpeace, with Hunter at the helm. It combined the anti-war and environmental movements for the first time. Environmentalism till that time had been dominated by more staid groups like the World Wildlife Fund. But, perhaps for the first time too, Greenpeace embraced environmentalism as a new way of looking at the world.

And Hunter was always there, organising and rabble-rousing as well as recording. The idea, he always said, was to combine the Quaker tradition of bearing witness with modern electronic media:

We saw it as a media war. We had studied Marshall McLuhan. I saw Greenpeace as an icon, a symbol from which we might affect the attitudes of millions of people towards their environment.

Hunter organised the media coverage of sundry early events, from chasing down whaling ships to confronting sea hunters on the Canadian ice:

As a journalist, I was, of course, a traitor to my profession. Instead of reporting the news, I was in a position of inventing the news - then reporting it.

In the late 1970s, Greenpeacers marshalled by Hunter propelled their trademark Zodiac inflatable up the ramp of a Soviet whaling ship, climbed out among the whale carcasses and handed out anti-whaling badges to the bemused Russian crew - all in front of a nine-man film crew from ABC.

Hunter chose the name Rainbow Warrior for the organisation's first boat, in honour of the "warriors of the rainbow" myth of the native Indians. Against opposition from many of his more ascetic comrades, he took Brigitte Bardot on to the ice floes of northern Canada to witness the mass slaughter of seals for their pelts. "Until her arrival, the seal-hunt story had been all blood and death, but now it was blood and death and sex."

Hunter became President of Greenpeace in 1973, and held the post for four years, helping turn it into a worldwide organisation before ceding control to a former badminton champion and construction millionaire, David McTaggart.

After his years running Greenpeace, Hunter burned out - on one final trip, raving and appointing himself "latrines officer" - and eventually returned to journalism. But he never lost the old zeitgeist, continuing to write his column for the Vancouver Sun and broadcast on ecology across Canada.

Fred Pearce