Organic farmers and friends remembered Russell Libby, a state leader in the organic farming movement, as a wise, driven leader during a memorial event Sunday hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Libby, who died at age 56 from cancer, was the association’s executive director for 17 years, and is credited with building the group into the nation’s largest state-level organic growers association.

Barbara Damrosch, the association’s board president, told the 200-person crowd that Maine’s organic farming movement owes thanks to Libby’s leadership for its success.

“He steered the ship like a sailor who knew every tide,” she said. “The ship is still on course, thanks to Russell.”

Heather Spalding, who took over as interim director when Libby died, said he could be counted on for guidance.

“And when he had to give us some difficult feedback, he always did it with such grace,” she said.

Those in attendance at the memorial event, held at the association’s Common Ground Education Center, also were given a chance to speak to the crowd and share memories of Libby.

Libby was remembered by those who knew him as a great leader who had a sense of purpose. People said he was known for his laugh. Others remembered how much he loved children. A few people said they remembered him as a competitive person by nature who liked having the last word in every discussion.

Toward the end of board meetings, association members said, he would push to finish quickly and start the potluck meal they always held at the end of meetings.

The association has set up an endowment for people to donate to as a memorial to Libby. Spalding said the endowment already has received $30,000 and will help the group continue to function with less reliance on grants.

Theresa Secord, executive director of Maine Indian Basket Makers Alliance, presented Spalding with a basket as a memorial to Libby.

She said about 10 years ago, her group tried to quit attending the Common Ground Country Fair, run by the association, but Libby persuaded her not to.

“He personally came to our office and encouraged us not to quit,” she said.

Bennet Konesni, of Belfast, told the crowd that he didn’t know Libby as well as others at the event, but he said he remembered Libby as a person who could look to the future but keep the past in mind.

“It makes sense, in this community, that he would be a leader.” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com