MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
In February of 2009, Diane Drigot surveyed the muddy terrain surrounding the Nuupia Ponds. The Marines of Combat Assault Company had torn through invasive plants while conducting their annual training with amphibious assault vehicles. Drigot gazed at the chirping black and white Hawaiian stilts in the area, taking advantage of the freshly-plowed mud.
“They’re saying ‘thank you,’” she said with a warm smile.
Drigot, who worked for more than 30 years at Marine Corps Base Hawaii coordinating events such as the annual MudOps, passed away Oct. 14, 2013, at the age of 65, at St. Francis Hospice in Honolulu.
The former senior natural resources manager at the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department died due to complications with a stem cell transplant during treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia.
Born in Chicago May 7, 1948, Drigot grew up exploring the outdoors. Her elder sister, Karen Stone, said she would return home with various finds, such as worms, stray dogs, or even an injured bird.
“Diane always had an intense curiosity about the outside world,” Stone said. “She would always bring home everything she found. (She was) an animal lover from a very young age.”
As a child, Drigot was also fond of dance and song. Stone said they would both eagerly rush home from school each day to watch the TV show, “American Bandstand,” hosted by Dick Clark.
“We both loved to dance,” Stone recalled. “(We first) learned how to dance standing in front of the TV set. We were in toe, tap, (and) ballet (lessons).”
Drigot earned a bachelor’s degree in conservation of natural resources from Barnard College, Columbia University, a master’s degree and doctoral degree in natural resources from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. After working in several positions on the mainland U.S., she moved to Hawaii in 1977 to become a professor at the University of Hawaii.
“She did her (doctorate) research at (Mount) Haleakala and absolutely fell in love with Hawaii,” Stone said. “(After earning) her (degree), (she worked) in Greeley, (Colo.), and three years later was recruited by the East-West Center in Hawaii, which is where she wanted to be.”
In 1982, she began working in the Environmental Management Section at MCB Hawaii, which at the time only consisted of herself and a Marine.
Drigot’s duties varied, from preparing archeological reports to addressing issues involving clean water or hazardous materials. She was directly involved in writing the submission packages for numerous awards the base received from the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. Drigot herself earned more than 20 awards, including the 2005 Secretary of the Navy Conservation Individual of the Year award and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award last month.
Captain Derek George, the director of the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department, is in charge of monitoring operations of the entire department, and worked with Drigot on an almost-daily basis since 2010.
From 2009 to 2011, Drigot was instrumental in keeping MCB Hawaii exempt from becoming a “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act. If the base was federally-designated as a critical habitat, there would be more regulation on military training, giving priority to the Hawaiian monk seals as they are a “threatened species” living on Mokapu Peninsula. Among her efforts, Drigot spoke at the Hawaii Environmental Forum detailing training procedures aboard the base to further her case.
“(That was) her reassurance to the base that while she obviously loves the natural resources (and) endangered species, she (did) what she could to protect them (and allow) the base to accomplish its mission,” George said. “As a Marine, I have to say that I appreciate training and facilitating the co-existence of natural resources and the Marine Corps on Mokapu (Peninsula). (She was) enthusiastic about everything she did.”
George said Drigot worked a great deal, to the point “where she was just completely exhausted,” putting everything before her own needs.
“(She understood) that there are a lot of other things that were bigger than herself,” George said. “(That’s) what I admired most about her.”
Many who knew Drigot on and off base shared the same sentiment: she not only loved what she did for a living, she also wanted to share it with others.
“She was like a walking encyclopedia on Hawaii, on the Marines,” Stone said. “She was just nonstop avid, passionate person.”
One Marine in particular who became good friends with Drigot was Gordon Olayvar, the conservation law enforcement officer at the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department. Olayvar met Drigot in 1982, as a 20-year-old lance corporal with 3rd Marine Regiment inquiring about volunteer opportunities. Soon, he was busy with many different tasks from chopping trees to counting sea birds.
“I really appreciated that our relationship was a brother and sister type,” Olayvar said. “One minute we’d be screaming at each other, the next we’d be laughing and joking. It was really good fun. That was the beauty of working with Diane Drigot.”
From a professional standpoint, he said he liked her no-nonsense attitude.
“It’s been an awesome journey of learning with her,” Olayvar said. “It was a passion for her to protect resources and another passion to share her knowledge with others. Though you may disagree with her motivations you had to really appreciate that energy behind it.”
Olayvar recalled an incident during one of the annual MudOps events in which he worked with Drigot. Having served in the Marine Corps, Olayvar knew giving speeches in front of young junior Marines is much more effective with the occasional joke. Drigot, on the other hand was strictly focused on explaining the purpose of MudOps and sharing information about the natural wildlife. Olayvar remembered attempting to throw in a joke or two, but only succeeded in upsetting Drigot, who demanded his silence. At that moment “I actually picked her up and threw her in the mud,” he said. From then on, he said it was a tradition to throw Drigot in the mud during one of her speeches.
“She’d turn around and literally pick up where she left off (covered in mud),” Olayvar said. “(The Marines laughed), then they’d really paid more attention.”
But, as he also recalled, Drigot still had a less serious side, always bringing flower leis for co-workers being recognized, and entertaining at office functions with song and dance. Olayvar said he would miss the joking and laughing with Drigot the most.
Lance Bookless, who took over as senior natural resources manager at the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department after Drigot’s retirement in 2012, met Drigot in 1995 when he attended a presentation about a new geographical information system they were developing within the department.
“Every time you spoke to her she had a wealth of information she wanted to impart to you that at times was difficult to absorb it all,” Bookless said.
Bookless said the Environmental Department is currently trying to archive the wealth of information Drigot has collected for more than 30 years, all of which barely fits into 12 four-drawer file cabinets.
“When a position came available at the Environmental Department and the opportunity to work with Diane presented itself, my colleagues at state highly recommended that if I wanted to learn and expand my knowledge and continue do bigger and better things, going to work over here was a good move and they were right. Diane had her hands in absolutely everything.”
Bookless said Drigot was dedicated to educating community groups, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Mokapu Elementary School.
He remembered whenever groups would gather on base to participate in volunteer events with the Environmental Department, such as Weed Warriors, Drigot would eagerly begin each event with countless stories and information. Among her introductory speeches, she would explain to the volunteers the significance of their efforts and the reason for the project.
“Sometimes she just had so much information she wanted to impart (that) we’d have to cut her off before it got too late (to do the volunteer project),” Bookless said. “They might have forgotten her name, but they remembered the woman who could tell all those different (stories).”
Bookless said through Drigot, he learned about how to draw up contracts and negotiate funding that supported the Environmental Management Section of the department.
In 2000, when the Federal Sikes Act and Marine Corps mandated that all environmental plans be consolidated into a single plan, Drigot co-authored the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“She leaves a legacy of integrating modern scientific understanding, Hawaiian cultural views and values, and engaged communities to further stewardship and environmental protection,” wrote Kristin Duin, a contractor from Sustainable Resources Group International, who co-authored the INRMP with Drigot.
According to Bookless, one particular incident Drigot was most noted for occurred when the base military units were preparing to deploy in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During a training event at Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility, a ricochet from tracers ignited a range fire that killed more than 120 red-footed boobies in the nearby colony. As a result of this incident, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service threatened to shut down the range. Drigot personally met with the base’s commanding officer, state congressional representatives, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives at the time.
“She helped broker a compromise to keep the range open, which involved the Marine Corps funding various fire protection projects that would ensure the protection and safety of the booby colony,” Bookless said.
Bookless said he will miss her extensive “knowledge and expertise.”
“If you asked for information (on a certain topic), she’d send you a three-page email in 10 minutes,” Bookless said.
Todd Russell, a natural resource manager with the Environmental Compliance and Protection Department, met Drigot in 2008 when he moved from South Dakota to Hawaii to work at MCB Hawaii. She gave him many reference materials about the local culture and natural resources.
“(I was) blown away by all that information,” Russell said. “It was the marsh, the Hawaiian cultural values, the military mission, it was all of that in one little brochure … and she didn’t stop there.”
Drigot also offered advice about the best places to live in the islands. Russell described her as very busy, but able to see many tasks through to the end.
“She would go out (side) and make sure each plant that was supposed to be growing was growing,” he said.
In March of 2011, when the base inspector renamed the traditional basewide cleaning event “Malama Ka Aina,” Russell said Drigot adamantly fought to change the title to “Malama i ka ‘Aina,” accompanied by an okina, or Hawaiian diacritical mark before the “a” in “aina” and a kahako, also a diacritical mark above the first “a” in both “malama” and “aina,” which she verified as more grammatically correct.
“If you’re using a Hawaiian phrase as a way to say ‘hey, we’re protecting Hawaii,’ and you don’t use proper grammar, it makes you look silly,” Russell said. “She knew it mattered to a lot of people.”
Russell said he would miss having “candid conversations” with Drigot, as well as her wealth of knowledge. He recalled an organization’s proposal to have solar panels floating in the Nuupia Ponds, to which she was already prepared with the information from a previous, similar request.
“She had a fierce reputation,” Russell said.
Through her many relationships with multiple entities outside of the base, Russell said Drigot was able to promote a better understanding between the local community and the base. She also spent much of her free time immersed in the local culture, continuing her love of dance through hula with Halau Mohala Ilima and paddling on the Waimanalo Canoe Club.
“She never wanted to move back to the mainland,” Stone said. “I think in another life she was Hawaiian.”
Her funeral is scheduled for January 2014, and her ashes are to be scattered in Kaneohe Bay. Survivors include Stone, her mother, Genevieve Drigot, her nephew, Robert Stone and his wife Kelly, and their children, Lexi and Tyler.