By Todd Miller
Some of the best things about working for the N.C. Coastal Federation are the wonderful people who constantly step forward to help us protect and restore our coast. And one of the most painful parts of this job, especially after 32 years, is saying goodbye to one of these good friends who have become part of your life.
Yesterday we lost one of our best friends of the coast. Bernice Rice of Thomas Landing on Stump Sound passed away. She and her late husband, Bill, were instrumental in helping bring attention to the polluted runoff from coastal development that was destroying water quality and the clams and oysters that depend on clean water. They became eloquent advocates for better stormwater management and control. Along with their neighbor Lena Ritter, they helped local residents convince state agencies to buy and protect Permuda Island in Stump Sound and to adopt progressive stormwater controls.
If not for their work, over 300 condominiums and a marina would have been built on the island, and the rich oyster beds around it would be polluted. And because their fight made so clear to everyone in the state what was at stake in terms of the future quality of our coastal waters, North Carolina now has some of the most effective coastal stormwater controls in the nation.
One of the highlights of all that effort was a visit to their farm in 1986 by Walter Cronkite. He was flown down to the coast by helicopter from Raleigh by WRAL-TV as part of its Save Our Sounds campaign. A community lunch on their lawn under huge live oak trees brought statewide attention to the needs of our coast.
Bernice and Bill are no longer with us, but their legacy is strong. They were proud of the fact that they were able to farm their land and cultivate oysters in harmony with each other. They frequently told the story of when the government offered to ditch and drain their farm, and they said, “No thanks. Why would we ever consider doing that to our oyster garden that we have next to our farm?”
Bernice loved to grow flowers, and her green thumb brought joy to everyone who ever visited their beautiful farm on the banks of Stump Sound near Holly Ridge. While we will miss her greatly, we won’t ever forget what she has contributed to making our coast a better place for the generations that now follow behind her.