For more than 23 years I was fortunate to work with, and come to know as a friend, an extraordinary human being.

He was Larry Keller, a builder of office parks, birdhouses, and lifelong relationships.Larry was absolutely the most passionate advocate for land conservation I have ever met. He was a force of positive thinking, joy, and living life fully.

A longtime resident of Short Hills, he joined the New Jersey Conservation Foundation board of trustees in 1986 and served as board president from 1995 to 1998.

He served on the board for 18 years, and on numerous committees until his passing on July 7.

I lost not only a great friend and mentor, but New Jersey lost a conservation trailblazer who lived his life with passion and integrity.

One of the remarkable things about his involvement with land conservation was that Larry was, by trade, a developer.

He was chairman of the board of Keller, Dodd and Woodworth Inc. in Princeton, developers of Princeton’s Forrestal and Carnegie Centers, among many other projects.

But, in the words of David Moore, former director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation: “Mr. Keller has understood for a long time that conservation and economic development can’t get along without each other.”

Larry was an invaluable bridge between the business and conservation communities. He believed that the relationship between the environmental and business communities has often been antagonistic and doesn’t need to be.

It’s best to put buildings where there are major highways and transportation available, he once told a reporter, than to put them in the middle of beautiful farmland and on lands that should be preserved.

That is as pure and straightforward a summary of what conservation is all about as you are likely to find. Larry deeply cared about conservation and acted on his commitment. During his three-year term as president, well more than 12,000 acres were permanently preserved in the Pine Barrens, the Highlands, coastal Atlantic and Cape May counties, suburban communities, the Black River, and Delaware river and bay regions. In short, he had a hand in preservation in just about every spot in the state.

Larry’s joy and enthusiasm for nature and his friends and family were infectious and boundless. With his huge heart, smile, and twinkling eyes, he inspired us to take on and achieve many land preservation successes.

In a spring 1998 newsletter Larry wrote: “Some of you know that building things is what I do best. As a real estate developer, I build office parks. I also build birdhouses. And one spring, a tiny yellow prothonotary warbler built her nest in one of them.

She had traveled 2,500 miles to reach her destination — my little house, on her favorite old black gum tree in an unfragmented stretch of New Jersey forest.”

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has permanently preserved this warbler’s home. That is an example of what we do best. May we urge all conservationists, developers and everyone in between to live up to Larry Keller’s fine example.

Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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