Editor's note:Marya Repko of Everglades City, president of the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation, has written a book, "Grandma of the Glades," about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who died in 1998. This is an excerpt from her talk about Douglas given recently at the Naples Preserve:
Marjory Stoneman Douglas saw so many changes during her long, long life.
She lived to be 108 and influenced the way we think about the Everglades through her book "The Everglades: River of Grass" and her continual campaigning at all levels.
Douglas graduated from the prestigious Wellesley College in 1912. After a disastrous marriage, she went to Miami in 1915 where her father put her to work as a writer at the Miami Herald. She left the deadlines of the newspaper in 1924 and concentrated on writing short stories, many published in the Saturday Evening Post.
In the early 1940s an editor for Rineholt Publishers approached Douglas to contribute a book in the "Rivers of America" series. She said the Miami River "is only about an inch long" and they decided to include the Everglades. She talked to geologists and hydrologists until she was convinced that the Everglades was a very slow-flowing river, draining into the delta of the Ten Thousand Islands.
Her famous book was published in November 1947, a month before the Everglades National Park was opened by President Harry S. Truman in Everglades City.
She started campaigning for Everglades protection when she was almost 80 years old. The Dade Port Authority had bought 39 square miles in the Big Cypress and planned in 1968 to build a supersonic jetport — with a satellite city for workers, multilane highway, high-speed rail link and the foundation for other residential communities.
Douglas stumped around the state, speaking wherever she could and collecting the $1 membership fee for her new Friends of the Everglades organization. Eventually, President Richard Nixon was made aware of the problem and the jetport was stopped after one runway was built and the Big Cypress was declared the first national preserve in 1974.
You would think that when she was in her 90s Douglas would have retired, but her next target was the Kissimmee River, which had been straightened with a huge canal. She badgered Gov. Bob Graham for money to dam the canal and restore the historic river flow so the water would be cleaner by the time it reached Lake Okeechobee.
Her next target was Big Sugar near Lake Okeechobee. Nutrient-rich runoff flowed into this large body of water, so Douglas wanted the canefield farmers to clean it up.
That battle remains ongoing.
At 103 years of age she went to Washington to be presented by Bill Clinton with the Presidential Medal of Honor. By this time her eyesight had failed and she had enlisted journalist John Rothchild to help her write her wonderful autobiography, "Voice of the River," in which she recalls her long and interesting life.
"Your brain is like any other part of the body," Douglas said at the time. "If you neglect it, it's going to deteriorate."
Douglas was cogent all her life, but her body finally gave up in 1998.