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Passenger: Alan Beaven

Sunday, October 28, 2001

Alan Beaven did not fit the stereotype of a successful attorney. Dressed casually in his San Francisco law office, the New Zealand native shunned his computer, preferring to dot the monitor with messages on sticky notes.

Alan Beaven
dot.gifEnvironmental lawyer, 48, Oakland, Calif.
Wife, Kimi; daughter, Sonali, 5; sons Chris, 18, John, 21. (Family photo)
He was going to San Francisco to try a case before leaving on a sabbatical to India

He wrote briefs in longhand, a throwback to his days as a barrister in England. He preferred to keep his own filing system, which consisted of dozens of accordion folders laid out on the floor.

And he liked to get his hands dirty. When taking on oil companies or alleged polluters of California's waterways, Beaven thought nothing of rolling up his sleeves and going to the source for information, whether it was an abandoned gold mine, a hog farm, or downstream from a cement plant.

He drove an old car, allowed his hair to grow long, saved his suits for trials, refused to display his diplomas, and didn't carry a cell phone. Instead of holding forth at length in a courtroom, he enjoyed allowing his opponents to dig themselves into a hole of their own making, after which he would deliver a pithy coup de grace when his turn came to speak.

And even though he couldn't keep his office plants alive, Beaven enjoyed protecting the environment and considered suing polluters both a moral duty and an intellectual challenge.

He was so successful that the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said he had practically worked himself out of a job.

It was just as well. Beaven, his wife, Kimi, and their daughter, Sonali, 5, were preparing for a year-long sabbatical to do volunteer work for the SYDA Foundation in Bombay.

In the last decade, Beaven had become heavily involved with Eastern philosophy, meditating, practicing yoga and spending a month in an ashram in India.

Helping to ground Beaven's spiritual center was his family. It was no surprise that he was devoted to Sonali and sons Chris, 18, and John, 21, from a previous marriage; wherever he went, Beaven acquired a fan club of children in the neighborhood.

During a typical morning in his Oakland home, Beaven would drink a cup of Twinings Earl Gray tea before being ambushed by Sonali and a heap of books that she wanted him to read before work. She would climb on his lap and they would snuggle.

"I'll never say no to a book," he would tell her.

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