Sue Anne Salmon, a Kentucky environmentalist and community activist who won many awards for her efforts, died Wednesday at her home in Madisonville after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She was 61.
The diminutive Ms. Salmon, whom friends called "Mighty Mouse," was involved in dozens of local and state environmental issues, including those involving water, waste management and mining.
Earlier this month the Kentucky Resources Council established an annual Sue Anne Salmon Community Advocacy Award in her honor. In 2008, the Sierra Club and the Kentucky Resources Council honored her with an outstanding-achievement award.
"Kentucky lost a true environmental hero," said Tom FitzGerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council. "She was a principled and courageous advocate for the betterment of the community and environment."
Although she was known for environmental work for more than 30 years, in 1970 Ms. Salmon's name appeared in large headlines having nothing to do with the environment. She was arrested and accused of firebombing a University of Kentucky building in which Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps classes were held. The charges eventually were dropped. The case was never solved.
But the incident, which occurred when Ms. Salmon was a UK senior and active in the movement against the Vietnam War, changed forever the life of the young woman who was voted "Most Bashful" in her senior year at Madisonville High School.
"Sue Anne said they (police) put her under a bright light bulb hanging from the ceiling," said her sister, Dr. Lucy Crain, adding that Ms. Salmon was also handcuffed to a chair during her interrogation by police.
"They just really convicted her without a trial, or so it seemed," Crain said.
Guy Mendes of Lexington, who worked with Ms. Salmon on the UK student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, and the underground student newspaper, the Blue-Tail Fly, said Ms. Salmon was a scapegoat and that officials used the burning of the old building as an excuse to bring in the National Guard.
"She was known as an arsonist, and she was wrongly labeled that," he said.
The once bashful Ms. Salmon became an outspoken, articulate person who testified about landfills, mountaintop removal and other issues in many venues, her sister said.
Ms. Salmon, a Madisonville native, received a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education from UK and did graduate work in graphic arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts.
She was a founding member of Amber Moon Productions, which brought female performing artists and cultural events to the Lexington area. She also worked for June Appal Records, part of the Appalshop project in Whitesburg, as a young woman. She was a photographer and a teacher of students with special needs. Also a farm manager, she was a master gardener. She also played guitar and sang folk songs.
In addition to her sister, Ms. Salmon is survived by her mother, Ruth Salmon; another sister, Mary S. Templeton; and two brothers, Dr. Thad Salmon and Dr. J.L. Salmon Jr.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 163 North Main Street, Madisonville. Barnett-Strother Funeral Home in Madisonville is handling arrangements.