Fred C. Danforth, who co-founded the largest private equity firm in the United States devoted to land and stream restoration, died at his home in Mattapoisett, MA on Thursday. He was 65; the cause was gall bladder cancer, as reported by his wife, Carlene Larsson.
After graduating from Yale in 1973, Fred’s career in finance began at Citibank in New York. He left there as a vice president to become president of a regional bank in Tulsa, OK. He then co-founded Capital Resource Partners, a private equity firm in Boston specializing in mezzanine finance. Yet it was only after retiring from CRP and purchasing a Montana ranch with a degraded trout stream that he found what he often said he was “meant to do,” combining his passion for the environment with his talent in finance.
After only two years of stream restoration efforts, the trout, which had been absent from the stream for decades, began to return. The robust response of nature to restoration gave Fred the vision to create the first wetland and stream mitigation bank in Montana. He then met Adam Davis and Nick Dilks, and co-founded a firm based on his vision that private capital could be martialed to do large-scale restoration and conservation, a space that had been previously reserved primarily for government and philanthropy.
Our firm, Ecosystem Investment Partners, is pioneering a new “ecological asset class” by providing companies and government agencies with a more efficient way to comply with Clean Water Act regulations, and more effective and accountable ways to get large-scale restoration done to address a wide range of regional problems. For Fred, being a pioneer in this space demanded an unwavering belief in his vision and a fierce tenacity. Today, EIP has over a half billion dollars under management, making it one of the largest sources of private capital for ecological restoration projects in the world.
The same passion and determination that underpinned the foundation of EIP was present in other areas of Fred’s life. Native American educational opportunities were a particular passion for him. The time he spent on several reservations illuminated the struggle young Native Americans face in seeking strong educational opportunities. A scholarship student at Yale, Fred “paid it forward” by endowing a scholarship to bring Native American students to the University. He also supported an effort to establish a cultural house for Native American students at Yale.
A talented multi-sport athlete, he sustained a severe injury to his right eye in a high school basketball game that left him temporarily blind in one eye. He remained a standout on the football team and went on to be valedictorian of his high school class in Brewer, ME, despite having to sit five feet from the chalkboard due to 20/200 vision in his “good eye”. Fred then played football and lacrosse at Phillips Exeter Academy for a year before heading off to play football at Yale. After three surgeries over seven years by famed Boston eye surgeon, Trygve Gunderson, his sight was restored while at Yale. Fred’s son, Trygg, is named after Dr. Gunderson.
An enthusiastic fly-fisherman and a determined golfer, Fred was also passionate about having fun. He maintained that one of his strongest skills was his ability to “shoot a beer” in less than 2.5 seconds. The number of basketball and baseball games he missed played by his sons could be counted on one hand. In a speech he gave in November to Yale and Harvard athletic alumni, Fred talked about legacy, saying, “By this I mean not just the legacy of accomplishment, but the legacy ofinfluence and impact—of how I live my life, how I engage my passions, and the signals I send to my two sons.”
Fred is survived by his wife, Carlene Larsson, and two sons, Trygg Larsson Danforth and Pierce Danforth Larsson.
The family has designated two charities for gifts. They are: The Fred C. Danforth ’73 Scholarship Fund at Yale University or the Blackfoot Challenge, a non-profit focused on conserving and enhancing the natural resources in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley.