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Dr. Marty Griffin marks a century of environmental action

Martin “Marty” Griffin, Jr., MD, MPH, a renowned conservationist and alumnus of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, has lived a long life of public service. As he turns 100 years old on July 23, we look back on his many accomplishments.

Griffin has been a generous donor to Berkeley Public Health, and this month we will not only celebrate his birthday but mark the (virtual) grand opening of his namesake Martin and Joyce Griffin Terrace Garden, a rooftop green space built just outside the Dean’s office at Berkeley Way West. The terrace will include a vegetable garden, native plants, decorative steel panels etched with natural scenes and Griffin’s favorite quotes, as well as four trees that will represent Dr. Griffin’s four daughters: Linda, Anne, Carol, and Joan.

Born in a cottage near the Ogden River in Utah, Griffin was surrounded by nature and its wonders from an early age. According to Griffin, his parents influenced him to protect the land and water.

“My mother said to be closer to nature,” Griffin says. He and his brother learned to fish and enjoy the river from their father. “ I remember when I was six years old, the smell of sage and trout and willow,” he says.

From planting vegetables to sewing oak, ash, and bay laurel trees to create a native plant habitat in his own yard, Griffin still loves to garden to this day.

As a Boy Scout, Griffin’s love for the natural world developed, and he was encouraged to study zoology and biology as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. He went on to Stanford Medical School and then set up a medical practice in Marin County. Known as “the nature doctor,” Griffin would often prescribe a dose of nature for his patients and a walk outdoors.

He returned to Cal more than 25 years after he got his MD to attain a master’s degree from Berkeley Public Health. His area of study was in socially supportive land-use planning, the balancing of human needs with protection of natural systems.

Among his numerous achievements, Griffin was the public health director of Sonoma Developmental Center for 15 years and was the chief of both the Hepatitis B and AIDS task forces in several state hospitals in the 1980s. During this time, a vaccine for Hepatitis B was created, and Griffin successfully eliminated Hepatitis B infections among staff and residents in state hospitals and developmental centers in California. For this, the state awarded Griffin The Gold Medal for Superior Medical Accomplishment in 1989.

Griffin’s work in environmental conservation began with the founding of Audubon Canyon Ranch, which protects 5,000 acres of wildlife, land, and water. His book Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast details his years of environmental conservation, during which he combined his knowledge of public health with his concerns for the environment.

“Marty can take his public health background and define the importance of the environmental conservation ethic that he espoused,” says Grant Davis, the manager of the Sonoma County water agency who’s known Griffin for 30 years. “If you look at his leadership in hepatitis B and his efforts to protect Audubon Canyon Ranches and his continued work on water quality in the Russian River, it’s the connection between land and water that is so powerful and he embodies that connection.”

Another of his signature achievements was the preservation of the gravel beds in the Russian River, which supplies a significant amount of drinking water to Sonoma and Marin county. The gravel beds clean and naturally filter the water.

“Over 600,000 people [in Sonoma and Marin counties] depend on the Russian River for drinking water,” says Davis. “He was a tireless advocate for the public health and water quality for our drinking water. In fact, I can’t think of anyone else who did more for those gravel beds.”

Currently, Griffin is focusing his environmental conservation efforts toward preserving Point Reyes as a national park and limiting the pollution caused by cattle ranching in the area. Those who know him continue to be inspired by his work to this day. His closest friends and family describe him as warm, humble, and compassionate toward everyone he meets.

“Marty and others have told me that there’s a path to living long, and it’s pursuing the things you care about and bringing health to the world,” says Doug McConnell, an environmental journalist who’s known Griffin since 1983. “It’s important to know how many friends Marty has and how so many of us of my generation and younger just love him.”

“I think we’re all thrilled he’s gonna get to the 100th mark and still be Marty Griffin,” says McConnell.

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