LeBoeuf was a champion for environmental justice and conservation who became a beacon of hope for others fighting cancer
August 23, 2013
The Class of 2003 will honor classmate Courtney Harrington LeBoeuf, a dedicated environmentalist and attorney who passed away last year from breast cancer at the age of 34. A 10-year reunion gift from her class will support the Courtney Harrington LeBoeuf Environmental Law Scholarship Endowment to benefit students entering their third year of law school who have demonstrated a commitment to environmental law.
Creating the scholarship was one of Courtney’s most important requests near the end of her four-year battle with breast cancer, said her husband, Jay LeBoeuf. “She saw that this was something that the world needs. If we want to help preserve the environment that we all love, we need another generation of people like Courtney,” he said.
A native of Tracy, California, Courtney received a J.D. in environmental law at Tulane and went on to combine her law degree with her love and knowledge of science and nature as an environmental attorney in San Francisco.
She spent endless summers at her grandparents’ cabin in the California High Sierra. In high school, she taught children from her hometown the wonders of nature at an outdoor education camp in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains; the same camp she attended as a child. And when she was 16, she traveled to Australia on an exchange trip to explore the Outback and swim along the Great Barrier Reef.
An environmental steward
Led by her love of science and nature, Courtney studied environmental biology at University of California, Davis. But she began to reconsider becoming a field scientist while on a research trip to Costa Rica, where she sat in a tree for hours each day studying bees. She had a back-up plan: she would become a lawyer to advocate for environmental justice and protect the world’s natural environment.
At Tulane, Courtney was involved in the Environmental Law Clinic and Environmental Law Society, and she was senior business editor for the Environmental Law Journal and a member of the Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor Society. Kassandra Savicki (L ’03), her friend and classmate, said that Courtney will be remembered not only for her passion for the environment, but also for her generosity of spirit. “Courtney had a real gift of making people feel important,” Savicki said, “She was always somebody who would check in with you. And she had probing questions and wanted to know what was going on with people in her life.”
Courtney began her career in law at Gordon & Rees in San Francisco and later joined an environmental law firm led by fellow Tulane Law alum John D. Edgcomb (L ’83). At the Edgcomb Law Group, one of her first big cases was a dispute between two chemical companies who had each contaminated adjacent industrial properties. “Her major motivation was to ensure the clean-up was done right,” said her husband, Jay.
When people asked her how she could be an environmentalist and yet advise polluters, Jay recalled that she would tell them, “’I’ve wrestled with this myself. If I’m not the one advising them on what is the right thing to do, someone who doesn’t care about the environment might step in and take my place.’” At Edgcomb, Courtney also advised developers and companies how to obtain LEED certification for their buildings.
She made time to take on pro-bono clients such as the Solano Land Trust, advancing its mission to permanently protect open spaces and farm and ranch lands in the North Bay county. And during her time away from work, she traded travel dreams with her husband: Jay always wanted to see the Egyptian Pyramids, and they did. Courtney wanted to go to the Amazon, and they spent a week at an eco-village deep inside the rainforest.
She was a doer. She was an adventurer. She was a champion for environmental justice and conservation. And before she passed away, she had become a beacon of hope for other cancer survivors.
Five years ago, a few days after her law school class reunion, Courtney’s doctor called her with the news: “You have cancer.”
She started chemotherapy a few days later. It was a chaotic and very private time, yet everyone wanted to know what was going on. “It was something that was completely foreign not only to us but to everyone in our lives,” Jay said. “Courtney found an incredible outlet by creating an online journal.”
She found comfort, strength and inspiration in stories from other cancer survivors in her online support community, and she sought to do the same for others. Charting her personal odyssey in journal entries on CaringBridge.com, Courtney spent a lot of time thinking about what message she wanted to share with fellow survivors and supporters, Jay said.
Her entries are eloquent, honest and life-affirming. Many center on a theme: “Keep Calm and Carry On,” “BELIEVE,” “The Very Definition of Love”.
Some begin with a quote:
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.” – Matahma Ghandi
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbows, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton
“My clock now ticks just slightly louder than most,” Courtney wrote a year after her diagnosis. “Does this mean my clock will stop ticking a little earlier? Most certainly not. It just means that I am now, more than ever, profoundly aware of its existence. The clock ticks for all of us. And if you are REALLY lucky, you realize it every day.”
After a sensory walk through her San Francisco neighborhood, she wrote, “Yes, the universe was conspiring to send me signals tonight. Signals that life is all around, waiting to be experienced and enjoyed. We need to open our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us every day. Not just in the parks and lakes, but in our very own neighborhoods. Every day traffic buttons sing, Girl Scouts smile, trees blossom, and signs present themselves.”
“It really is going to be okay.”
Of course, she shared news of her treatments and the clinical trials that she was participating in. “She was so open about her treatment and it was therapeutic for her,” Savicki said. “She wrote an incredible amount about diet and health, and there was nothing she wouldn’t try. She was going to fight with every tool she had.”
Courtney also recounted travels with her parents and husband to visit friends across the country. She reminded her readers of the importance of constantly making new memories. And she always expressed love and gratitude for her countless supporters.
“She was really overwhelmed by how much love she felt from everybody,” Jay said. “To be able to understand how much you are loved and appreciated and still have time to actually do something about it, it’s a gift.”
People tell him they are still re-reading Courtney’s stories. “Because she wasn’t just talking about her own struggle, she was also talking about struggling with cancer in a larger sense,” he said.
Gifts to the Courtney Harrington LeBoeuf Environmental Scholarship Endowment can be made online at https://tulaneuniversity.ejoinme.org/MyPages/LawSchool/tabid/387761/Default.aspx or http://www.courtneysfund.com/Donate.html
Michael Joe is a writer in the Office of Development.
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