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Finding more Loraxes to champion the environment

By Murphey Johnson • Mar 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I never had the pleasure of knowing Ashley Block, but this courageous and beautiful young woman dedicated her life to caring for and protecting the environment. Six months ago, the Earth lost this true champion to a senseless accident.

A few months after her death, an unrelated group volunteers at the Democratic Resource Center chose to pursue a project to put “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss into the hands of second-graders in Northeast Tennessee to commemorate Earth Day. It was not until last week that we became aware of Ashley’s story, and of her love for the Lorax and his message of environmental stewardship.

You see, ever since she was a young girl, Ashley Block was a dedicated environmentalist. Her parents, local physician William Block and his wife Teri, even referred to her as “the Lorax” because of her own zeal for protecting the Earth and all of its plant and animal inhabitants. She was born in Johnson City, and attended school here through 7th grade. In kindergarten, her mother has told me, she would come home terribly concerned about plastic bags and six-pack rings. “The Lorax” was her favorite story.

As she grew, her commitment to the environment never wavered. After graduating from a Minneapolis high school as valedictorian, this Lorax” decided to attend the University of the South in Sewanee, graduating with an honors degree in ecology and biodiversity. Last year, she was pursuing a doctorate in the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology and Integrated Conservation. Her life’s goal was a simple one — to save the world.

Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, Ashley was an outgoing and friendly, yet a diminutive figure (at 5’1”) whose presence could not be ignored. Friends and colleagues say that she commanded attention simply by walking into a room.

She made things happen — good things. Despite her small size, she was powerful and loved to train for and compete in triathlons. She was out on a training ride with friends when an impaired driver hit her in September.

You can imagine my shock when a single contribution to Project Lorax early this month added enough to the fund to purchase books for more than 500 children. You can also imagine my shock at learning the story behind that gift from the parents of this very special young woman. I knew that giving books to children was a good idea, and that teaching them to care for the environment was important.

I had hoped that this project would touch lives in a good way, but I had no idea how much it would come to mean to one resilient family.

I hope that their story, and Ashley’s, can give all of us the motivation to be champions for the planet. Providing books to children is fantastic, and I am super excited about it, but the best way to teach them is through the example of our own words and actions. I challenge everyone reading this to devote a little of your own time and effort each day to doing something positive for the environment, and to encourage others to do so as well.

Maybe if enough of us act, we can achieve some of what Ashley would have accomplished had she had the opportunity of more than 25 years.

As for me and the rest of the team at the DRC, we’re going to continue trying to get “The Lorax” into as many young hands as possible, in the hopes that we can inspire another young Lorax, or two, or one hundred. We need people like Ashley now, and we will need them even more in the future.

You never know where we might find them, but I think an elementary school is a good place to start looking.

Murphey Johnson of Johnson City is an engineer. He can be reached at murph@murpheyjohnson.com.

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