Guy Chichester, 73; organized antinuclear rallies at Seabrook

Guy Chichester visited the south marsh in front of New Hampshire's Seabrook nuclear power plant in 1997. Guy Chichester visited the south marsh in front of New Hampshire's Seabrook nuclear power plant in 1997. (Jim Cole/ Associated Press)
By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / February 12, 2009
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Often gathering for organizational meetings at Guy Chichester's house in Rye, N.H., founders of the Clamshell Alliance debated strategy and philosophy around his kitchen table, as one of his favorite sayings, cross-stitched and framed, looked down from a wall.

Give the world the best you have

and the best will come back to you

"If you're working in a just cause and have to make certain sacrifices, you sleep soundly at night," Mr. Chichester, who was arrested about a dozen times while protesting nuclear power, said in an interview for the book "The New Hampshire Century," published in 2001. "What will come back to you is peace of mind. And that, you know, is gold."

A carpenter with a gift for unassuming eloquence, he often acted as spokesman for the Clamshell Alliance, whose opposition to the Seabrook nuclear plant helped spawn the national antinuclear movement in the 1970s. Mr. Chichester, who also broke ground as a Green Party candidate for New Hampshire governor in 1990, died in his Rye home Sunday of a heart ailment. He was 73.

"Guy had a knack for taking complex issues and boiling them down into quite understandable nuggets; he was a master of the sound bite," said Paul Gunter, an alliance cofounder who works with Beyond Nuclear, a national antinuclear organization based in Takoma Park, Md. "But he was a visionary as well. Even in 1976, Guy had a vision of energy policy that focused on energy efficiency and conservation. We're still debating that today, and it's being debated on the floors of Congress as part of the economic stimulus package."

State Representative Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat who helped found the alliance, said his friend was "a force of nature" as he fought to wrest the nuclear regulatory process from corporate boardrooms and political backrooms and place it in the public square, where neighbors and citizens were raising their voices in protest.

"Guy was a carpenter," Cushing said. "He'd been in the Navy. He had tattoos. He could relate to lobstermen, he could relate to truck drivers, he could relate to people in a way that others couldn't."

Looming a couple of inches taller than 6 feet, Mr. Chichester also "was a giant of a man in terms of his ability to organize and lead people in a cause," said Kurt Ehrenberg, a regional representative, based in Concord, N.H., for the Sierra Club. "The Clamshell Alliance, which Guy helped to found, certainly prevented a second reactor at Seabrook and was a driving force for limiting any future construction of power plants across the country."

Born in Freeport on New York's Long Island, Mr. Chichester grew up making summer visits to his grandparents in Castine, Maine, on Penobscot Bay, where he developed a love for New England's seacoast. Proudly self-taught, he dropped out of school at 16, served in the Navy, and married Madeline Meyer in 1957.

Tiring of the rapid development in Long Island's suburbs, the family moved to Rye in 1970. Mr. Chichester had opposed the Vietnam War, and he worked as a field organizer in New Hampshire for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign. But his real entry into activism was helping organize the successful fight against plans by shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis to build a large oil refinery in New Hampshire at Durham Point.

"It was then that I realized the critical nature of development on the seacoast," Mr. Chichester told the Globe in 1977.

A year earlier, as Clamshell Alliance members began getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience, he told the Boston Herald American: "We intend to keep this a livable world. Nuclear power is the greatest of all environmental threats to mankind."

As a leader of the alliance, he was as much a man of action as of words, traveling "all over New England," said his wife, who cross-stitched the saying that hangs in the family's kitchen. "He was arrested in many different locations and worked tirelessly for many organizations. He was determined, and nothing really stopped him."

"More than anything, he taught me to read between the lines and not be afraid to stand up, even though you might be the only voice in the crowd," said his son Ben of Rye. "And there was more than one time that I saw him in that kind of situation. He was undaunted by fear of anybody."

While Mr. Chichester left his greatest mark as an organizer of protests, including the one on April 30, 1977, in which more than 1,400 people were arrested at the Seabrook site, he also entered the record books of jurisprudence when he successfully used an arcane article in the state's Constitution to get acquitted of malicious mischief. Frustrated by the imminent start-up of a nuclear reactor at Seabrook, he used a chainsaw in 1990 to cut down a 60-foot pole that held a warning siren.

"It was a political act, not malicious mischief," he told the Globe. The jury agreed.

Nevertheless, devoting more than three decades to organizing and protest required considerable sacrifice. "He gave up a conventional lifestyle, banging nails, for something he believed in," his son said, "and he wasn't getting paid for that."

In recent years, Mr. Chichester scaled back some and enjoyed spending time with his growing brood of grandchildren, even while stepping into the spotlight when necessary, such as for interviews in 2007 marking the 30th anniversary of the massive protest at Seabrook.

"He was crazy about his family and his extended family," his wife said. "Everybody who knew him wouldn't forget him."

"Guy left a legacy of love, hope, and change," Ehrenberg said. "He touched countless lives and helped to encourage many people, like myself, to continue the work in his footsteps."

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Chichester leaves two other sons, Blake of Hampton and Dru of Northampton, N.H.; two daughters, Jennifer of Portsmouth and Noelle of Biot, France; a sister, Eileen Beck of Delray Beach, Fla.; and eight grandchildren.

A service will be announced.

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