BRICK – A who’s who of environmental leadership came out to honor one of their own during a tree-planting memorial service at Traders Cove Marina for Greg Auriemma, 63, a Brick resident who died in July last year while on a hiking trip in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire.
Auriemma had been battling cancer and took off on the 10-day, 30 mile hiking trip after getting news that his condition had improved, said Jeff Tittel, Director of the NJ Sierra Club, at the time.
Tittel came to Traders Cove to pay his respects and speak about the passion Auriemma had for protecting the environment.
“I was always getting a phone call from Greg on Friday afternoons to give me words of encouragement for whatever we were doing,” Tittel said to the gathering of Auriemma’s family, friends and fellow environmentalists.
Auriemma, who was an attorney, helped to restart the Ocean County Chapter of the Sierra Club some 20 years ago, and as its chair, worked tirelessly on ocean issues, climate change, preserving open space, organizing beach clean-ups and much more, Tittel said.
“It’s appropriate that we have planted this tree at Traders Cove because Greg spent a lot of years here with Save Barnegat Bay to protect and preserve it as open space,” Tittel said.
The last environmental issue the men worked on together for the Sierra Club was to fight a proposed restaurant to be built at the marina and park, Tittel said.
Even when Auriemma was feeling sick, he showed up at the Sierra Club meetings, and Tittel said that his friend had a big part in “Barnegat Bay finally getting cleaned up.”
“In the Jewish religion, a tree stands for life,” Tittel said. “It is fitting to plant a tree because it is a symbol of life moving forward. Plus, we’re tree huggers,” he joked.
“The price of stewardship is vigilance, keep doing what’s right, and that’s what Greg did,” he said.
Willie deCamp, president of Save Barnegat Bay, said that one of the joys of his career was working with Auriemma.
“We first met when he was in the front row of a Save Barnegat Bay meeting to save Traders Cove,” he said. “He was in the front row and wouldn’t stop asking questions and giving his opinion, but his questions and his opinions were very strong.”
He said their friendship benefitted deCamp since Auriemma convinced him to attend the climate marches in New York City and in Washington D.C.
“It was a revelation how much you learn at these marches,” deCamp said. Auriemma cared about environmental issues everywhere, not just those that affected Ocean County or New Jersey, he said.
After deCamp’s comments, Tittel came back to speak about Auriemma’s visit to the White House after Superstorm Sandy.
Ocean County was devastated, Tittel recalled, and Auriemma’s lagoon-front home in Brick had also been damaged, but Auriemma worked tirelessly to help raise money for people who needed a place to stay or furniture for their house.
“I got a call from the White House and they asked me of all the people I knew who were impacted by Sandy, who was the biggest influence? There was no question, it was Greg, so he went to the White House and met the president,” Tittel said.
President Obama recognized Auriemma as a “Champion of Change” for his efforts, Tittel said.
Auriemma’s long-time partner, Joyce Isaza, said the memorial service would have meant everything to him.
“It is a really big honor for him to have everyone around him that he loved,” she said.