Communities across the United States that are concerned about having a voice in the health of their local environments lost a friend and leader with the death of Janet Zeller on Jan. 14.

As a co-founder of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League — reportedly begun as a grassroots effort in March 1984 in response to proposed construction of a nuclear waste repository in Ashe County — Zeller’s work would blossom into national legislation and nonprofit chapters in at least a half-dozen states.

The mission for clean air and water knew no better champion than Zeller — an advocate who shunned the spotlight, instead deferring recognition to the efforts of the organization she was instrumental in both building and leading.

It was this deferment that will be Zeller’s lasting legacy. Never so much concerned as being recognized as “the voice” of BREDL, her appetites ran to teaching others how to exercise their own voices in order to advance a harmony between the environment, business and industry in communities from North Carolina to Alabama.

At this, Zeller was voluminously successful — as attested to not only the strength of the organization she leaves behind, but by her own dictum in her own words: “Many people speaking with one voice cannot be ignored.”

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