Recent Obituaries
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Lafcadio Cortesi ’84

March 13, 2022, in Berkeley, California, 

Lafcadio died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Berkeley, California. The loss of his big heart, exuberance, buoyant energy, and joyous spirit left a huge void in his family, his community, and his friends around the world.  He was a father, husband, brother, friend, son, leader, chef, dancer, singer, traveler—the type of person who, once met, was never forgotten.

He grew up in Manhattan and attended Collegiate School and Milton Academy, meeting lifelong friends.

The Reed experience—his professors, fellow Reedies, and the Reed community—were influences with a huge impact on the trajectory of his life. Through shared multiple Reed houses—Mulberry Street, Reedway, PGE House (complete with green parrots living on the transformers)—classes, dancing at socials, travel, and more, he formed relationships with numerous Reedies, which grew into lifelong foundational friendships. Indeed, it was at Reed where he met his soulmate and lifelong partner Jo Anne Welsch ’85 in Prof. Richard Tron’s [classics 1961–2003] section in freshman humanities. They grew up together and married in 1989 after Lafcadio returned from Indonesia, gainfully employed at Greenpeace. They spent the next 40 years in love, creating a family and raising their two daughters, Arianna and Zephania, in Berkeley, California. 

At Reed, Lafcadio studied religion, anthropology, and political philosophy. His thesis, “Mircea Eliade’s Phenomenology: Expression and Practice of a ‘Theology of Meaning,’” advised by Prof. John Kenney [religion 1980–95], explored human experience of the sacred and profane through cultural expression in myths and rituals. In true Reed fashion, he took time off during college and spent a year traveling around the world with Jo Anne, starting in Nepal with Charlie Casey ’85, and continuing with a month in Thailand, Indonesia, China, and Italy, connecting with fellow Reedies along the way. When he was at Reed, Lafcadio was a constant force in the intellectual discourse, dancing, pursuit of live music, and “socializing” that made that time so special.

He was an enormously effective conservationist and community organizer who had an impact everywhere he worked. Lafcadio developed special expertise in Canada, Indonesia, and the wider Pacific. Beginning in 1985, he lived and worked in Indonesia with Volunteers in Asia on community development before joining Greenpeace in 1987, where he led efforts to support local communities in their struggles to keep their traditional lands and end deforestation in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. He played a leadership role in Greenpeace’s Pacific Campaign: a half-dozen catalytic actions defending forests, climate, fisheries, and coral reefs, as well as supporting local NGOs throughout the Pacific region. At, he was a director of Boreal Markets, fighting logging in thousands of square miles of the most ecologically and culturally important forests in western Canada. From 2008 to 2019, Lafcadio was director of Asia programs at the Rainforest Action Network, leading efforts to force paper buyers to shift to sustainable, human rights-based policies. Most recently he was a senior corporate campaigner at Canopy Planet, where he led efforts to change environmental policies at major consumer fashion and packaging brands. 

Lafcadio is most remembered for his passion and genius for bringing disparate groups together, navigating diverse cultures, and building consensus among people from different backgrounds—all with compassion, patience, and joy. His persistence and sincerity, combined with his endearing and charismatic personality, made him an effective collaborator and friend among local communities, activists, allies, and even adversaries around the world. One friend noted after his death that “there are many forests standing in the world today that wouldn’t be there without Lafcadio’s efforts and charm.”

He was also an amazing connector and community builder weaving together his personal and professional relationships, especially his beloved Reed friends. Back in 1995 as a Greenpeace campaigner, Lafcadio tapped friend and curator Larry Rinder ’83 to collaborate with the Maisin community in Papua New Guinea to create an exhibit of tapa cloth art. Jumping Lines: Maisin Art and Rainforest Conservation at the UC Berkeley Art Museum showcased how art, indigenous knowledge, and conservation are fundamental to protecting healthy forests and communities from logging companies hellbent on clearcutting these ancient tropical forests.

He also served on the board of the Karuna Foundation (Sanskrit for “compassion”), founded by Eric Lemelson ’81, together with Lisa Danzig ’85 and Holly Pruett ’85, supporting visionary organizations in developing nations that help communities fight and adapt to climate change and protect ecosystems. He was a member of the boards of the Dutch Foundation for Ecological Cooperation and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

Lafcadio loved to cook good food, and he honed his skills in the various Reed houses he lived in, over time becoming an excellent chef of different cuisines. Offering elaborate meals gave him joy, whether weekly dinners or sprawling Thanksgivings, for housemates, family, friends, visitors, and strangers alike. At Reed, he was renowned for cooking gourmet spreads for his own and his friends’ thesis presentations.

Lafcadio was a leader in and inspiration for a group of lifelong friends who worked, lived, and raised their children closely together for nearly three decades in the “Kampung” (Indonesian word for community), five adjacent houses with one big shared backyard located in the Bay Area. The extended Kampung community included many Reedies: Charlie Casey ’85  and Laurie Reid ’86; Byron Hann ’84; Deborah Moore ’85 and Adam Dawson ’83; Lisa Danzig ’85; Dino Bellugi ’83; Larry Rinder ’83; J. Sciarra; Jonathan Soll ’84; Eric Lemelson ’81; and more. He loved children and was a dedicated father to his two daughters, adding his playfulness, curiosity, and support to father-daughter backpacking trips, birthdays, pool parties, museum visits, and world travel. He continued to be the instigator of large meals, Thanksgivings, live music, dance parties, and attendance at countless Grateful Dead and other music concerts that built this tight-knit fun-loving community.

Jo Anne continues to live in their home in Berkeley; daughters Arianna and Zephania live in Maine and Seattle respectively. He is also survived by his mother, Alexandra Anderson; his siblings Genevieve Morgan, Vanessa Cortesi, Oscar Anderson, Zan and Ian Jacobus, and Sinclair Smith; his stepmothers Lale Armstrong and Wendy Mackenzie, and his large extended family and chosen family.  He will be deeply missed by the thousands of people whose lives he touched, and by the international sustainability movement he helped to inspire and build.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2022

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