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Celebrating Pepe Marcos-Iga

Those we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things that death cannot touch.
—Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Dear Friends:

I want you all to know that we lost a bright light in our NAAEE family yesterday. Our dear, dear friend Pepe Marcos-Iga passed away due to complications from cancer. So many of you know and loved Pepe; he has been a force in the field of environmental education and conservation for more than two decades, working to protect the planet, build community, create a more equitable and inclusive society, mentor a new generation of leaders, and add laughter to our lives. Pepe loved NAAEE and worked so hard to make sure this organization thrived under his leadership as board chair. And it did.

For those of you who didn’t know Pepe, he was brilliant, kind, and so giving, and one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He was a master storyteller, the guy you wanted at all your dinner parties, a wonderful writer, and the best friend and colleague you could ever wish for. He loved movies, musicals, and technology, as well as traveling and gathering stories from all his adventures. And he weaved metaphors from all of these varied interests in ways that always made us smile. Pepe also loved food—all kinds of food. On our many adventures, I watched Pepe eat stinky tofu (Ick!) in the night markets of Taiwan, goat head in the open market in Morocco, and Sonoran hotdogs in his home town of Tucson. We all loved that he loved food!

Pepe’s professional contributions to environmental education span decades. Pepe was selected as a TogetherGreen Fellow—a competitive fellowship program that was all about engaging people in conservation and using education to create stronger communities. For over a decade, he worked as the International Programs Director at the Environmental Education Exchange, managing a wide array of bilingual networking and capacity building efforts for environmental educators along the US–Mexico Border, across North America, and beyond. His work to bring people together included conferences, training workshops, and social networking that reached thousands of educators globally. Because of this work, he served as a member of the leadership team of the EECapacity project, EPA’s National Environmental Education Program, in partnership with Cornell University and NAAEE. Pepe’s passion for environmental education led him to join the NAAEE Board in 2007 and eventually assume the role of NAAEE Board Chair in 2011. He worked to expand and diversify our organization’s reach, particularly in Mexico and Canada. As part of the Guidelines Trainer’s Bureau, he has worked to take the Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education to Spanish speaking educators. Most recently, he was the Chief Operating Officer at the Western National Parks Association, where he helped partner national parks grow and diversify their education, interpretation, and research activities.

Pepe’s greatest gift to NAAEE and the environmental education field was his ability to light up the room, help ease tensions, make people laugh, and provide support just when someone needed it most. I can still see him on opening night at the conference making us all laugh, but also reminding us why the work we do is so important.

Pepe was also an amazing father and loved his family more than life itself. He leaves behind his incredible wife, Tania, a talented educator who has also been a trusted advisor and friend to NAAEE, and two wonderful children, Angela and Jose. Many of you have asked how you can help, and to that end, we have launched “Celebrate Pepe Marcos-Iga,” a fundraising campaign on the GoFundMe platform to help support his family at this difficult time and provide for his children’s education. We encourage you to share your tributes and photos of Pepe so that his family knows how much he meant to all of us at NAAEE and in the field. To kick this off, NAAEE has made the first contribution!

And to create a long-lasting tribute for all his contributions to NAAEE and the field, we will be creating a new NAAEE award in Pepe’s honor; more to come on that.

I know that so many of us are grieving today. But I look forward to seeing so many of you in Spokane so that we can honor Pepe’s legacy together and celebrate his life, share stories, and remember our wonderful friend who has left us far too soon.

Judy Braus
NAAEE Executive Director

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
—Dr. Suess

A few of the many tributes pouring in:

“Pepe was a warm and caring person who cared deeply about social equity and the environment. His death is a loss for the field."

"He was one of the most energetic and cheerful people that I have known. He will be really missed."

"Pepe’s sweet spirit soars on...what a smile, a joy, and an inextinguishable light."

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