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River’s good friend to leave FOR post

John Tippett, the face of the Friends of the Rappahannock for nearly two decades, is stepping down as executive director to seek treatment for complications from Lyme disease.

The Fredericksburg-based river conservation group announced on Friday that the 46-year-old Tippett, who joined FOR in 1995 and has been working part time in recent months, will stay on until a search committee finds his replacement.

Tippett said Friday that he became chronically ill in 2005, then found out that he had contracted neurologic Lyme disease—a tick-borne illness that can be debilitating for a small percentage of patients.

“I kind of agonized over this,” he said. “The disease comes in waves. You take the good hours when you can get them. At this point, I’m only able to put in a few hours a day because of the way the disease robs your energy. I can’t do justice to the job working a couple hours a day.”

Also, “I need to start pursuing alternative treatments. I’ve been really giving all the energy I have to the job,” said Tippett, who is married with two children.

FOR staffers have known for some time that the boss was ill. Tippett told them Wednesday about his plan to step down.

“This has been an incredibly hard decision to make, but it’s the right one for me, my family and the organization,” he said.

“Over the past two decades we’ve built an exceptionally talented staff of environmental professionals. We’ve grown from working in just the Fredericksburg region to serving the Rappahannock from the mountains to the bay.”

Rich McDaniel, chairman of the FOR executive committee, said in a press release that Tippett made huge strides for the organization.

“John has brought FOR from its infancy into a leading environmental force in Virginia. It’s going to be incredibly hard to replace him,” McDaniel said.

“All of us on the executive committee wish John the best in his recovery efforts.”

Bill Micks, a founding member of Friends of the Rappahannock and co-owner of the Virginia Outdoor Center, said Tippett has been a strong advocate for the river.

“Here’s a guy who decided to make this area his home, raise his family here and devote his life to this river,” Micks said. “I don’t think anybody in Virginia has done so much to work the kind of magic John has.”

The FOR executive committee will soon begin a search process for a new executive director in hopes of having Tippett’s successor selected by August. He plans to work in a part-time advisory role after the search has concluded.

“We’re very sad. John has kind of been the rock in the center here,” Gretchen Reiser, administrative assistant and bookkeeper, said after the announcement.

She joined FOR in 2007.

“John’s energy is so good, and he’s such a kind man. He cares so much about the mission, the people who work here,” she said. “We call it ‘Team Rappahannock.’”

Tippett was 27 when he joined FOR in May 1995, 10 years after it was founded by a group of area conservationists. He built on the work of the first two executive directors, Warren Wise and Linda Porter, expanding the focus from the Fredericksburg area to the entire river.

FOR’s programs now reach from the headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay.

FOR volunteers have planted stream buffers and erected fences for farmers on the upper Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers.

Three years ago, FOR hired a tidal river steward to keep an eye on water quality, sources of pollution and other issues on the lower section. Its current focus is on the prospect of hydraulic fracturing for gas in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.

Tippett and FOR were instrumental in the removal of the Embrey Dam in 2004 to benefit migratory fish, and in the creation of a conservation easement that protects more than 4,200 acres of land along the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers.

Under Tippett’s stewardship, FOR worked with local governments and developers on low-impact development ordinances that were among the first in the state.

FOR’s education programs connect with more than 8,000 students in local schools each year. Among other projects: FOR volunteers take water-quality samples and construct rain barrels. More recently, it began working with homeowners install rain gardens to keep polluted runoff out of the river.

Tippett grew up on Accokeek Creek along the Potomac River in southern Maryland.

“I knew from an early age, I wanted to have a career somehow related to protecting the water,” he said.

A graduate of Allegany College of Maryland, with a master’s in environmental resources management from Duke University, Tippett came to FOR after a few years working as an environmental consultant.

“I saw where things were really happening with nonprofit conservation groups,” he said, and the opportunity to make a difference.

“I had a great desire to find a group that was interested in not just being reactive, but proactive.”

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


The nonprofit Friends of the Rappahannock was created 29 years ago in Fredericksburg “to maintain the water quality, living resources, and scenic beauty of the Rappahannock River and its tributaries,” according to its mission statement.

With an annual budget of about $600,000, FOR, its members and volunteers support education, advocacy and conservation in the region.