With heavy heart, we share that our friend and colleague, Laura Williams, died unexpectedly on Saturday while training horses near her home in Chukhrai village in Bryansk Oblast, 500 kilometers (310 miles) outside of Moscow Russia.
I have had the honor of working with a wide range of people in my career, but there was only one Laura Williams.
Laura was a dynamo — an energetic, fearless, driven and passionate advocate for the environment. She was a natural leader, and her internal compass and judgement were rock solid. Once she chose a course of action, she was virtually unstoppable.
She could also be quite funny. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile, and she found humor and irony in even the toughest situation.
Laura was a bright ray of clarity and light in the often complicated cultural landscape of the Russian Far East. She believed deeply that the US and Russia should be able to work together to protect the environment, and she was adored by her Russian colleagues.
She was one of a very small group of Americans who traveled to Russia to live and work on environmental issues in the early 1990s during Perestroika, when Russia opened up to the west. Laura opened the first World Wildlife Fund office in Russia and later moved to Kamchatka with her husband, Russian photographer Igor Shpilenok.
Laura joined the staff of the Wild Salmon Center in 2009, leading our Russia program through 2013 while based in Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka. Our Kamchatka program was essentially bogged down, and we needed someone we could trust and who knew the Kamchatka landscape –human and ecological — to help us navigate. Laura led a careful evaluation and brought our Russia efforts to a whole new level. We would not be where we are today without her work.
Laura made a deep and lasting impression on me and our entire team, and for that we are all profoundly grateful. And our thoughts are with Igor, their boys Andrei and Makar, and her extended family today.