As a writer in San Francisco in the 1970s, Tary Mocabee was one of the first to explain the inner workings of automatic teller machines, a technological advancement that she jokingly equated with psychoanalysis: Both involve pressing crucial buttons. Ironically, Mocabee pushed a lot of political buttons over the past 20 years as a Montana environmentalist and lesbian activist. Many friends worry that it was her passion and straight talk that led to her mysterious death in early April.
Mocabee, 49, was found inexplicably drowned in a shallow stream on her property on the Flathead Indian Reservation. While investigators surmise that her death was accidental, the case remains open, due to unusual autopsy findings, reports of break-ins on the property shortly before she died and the fact that she was an activist to the end.
From the gay and lesbian guest ranch she managed on the reservation, Mocabee monitored state, federal and tribal timber sales. She strenuously promoted logging reform, and worked tirelessly to control rural development in the Mission Valley. One of her proudest feats was persuading the state in 1998 to include a protective corridor in a trust-land timber sale she could see from her home. Despite the deal, she was still incensed that conservationists had to finance the lease for the corridor.
"I've reached a point in my life where I won't shrink from what I feel needs to be fought for," she wrote at the time in her journal. "I won't suffer any more poorly thought-out, short-range, ill-conceived, quick-money plans for our wonderful public lands."
Outspoken and plucky, Mocabee was an avid writer who contributed guest columns, letters to the editor and other commentary to local and regional publications about the need to protect wilderness. She also served as a lobbyist in the 1999 state Legislature for the Friends of the Wild Swan, a conservation group. Two of her forestry bills were introduced in the 2001 session.
"She didn't hold things back," says longtime friend Carolyn Beecher. "She wore her heart on her sleeve. Not everybody liked her, but they knew how she felt, what she believed in and what she stood for."