Gary Sellers, age 71, died on March 13 from injuries suffered in a car accident. Sellers, a part-time St. John resident, was returning to his Lake Barcroft home from his popular Rappahannock County “pick your own” cherry orchard, Cherries-on-Top. He was killed instantly.
Sellers was born in 1936 in Detroit and earned his bachelor of arts and law degrees from the University of Michigan. He moved to Washington in 1965 and began his career as an attorney in President Lyndon Johnson’s Bureau of the Budget, which he left in 1969 to become Ralph Nader’s first general counsel.
At Nader’s urging, Sellers convinced a powerful California Congressman, Philip Burton, to sponsor two critical pieces of social legislation in which Sellers had been particularly interested during his employment by the Bureau of the Budget — the Coal Miner’s Health and Safety Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), both of which Sellers, with a cadre of other “Nader’s Raiders,” largely drafted. These landmark acts have had substantial impacts on employment safety in the United States.
Sellers thereafter worked for several additional members of congress, including John Burton and Sala Burton, and for the very powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and its Chair, Senator John McClelland.
Sellers retired from Congressional employment after more than 15 years and began his second career as a cherry orchardist, founding the 1,000 cherry tree orchard, Cherries-on-Top, located at the top of a hill with a magnificent 360-degree view of the lovely countryside.
Operating the orchard was his primary commercial activity during much of this time, but he was a nearly full-time volunteer for the National Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, working with Morton Halpern and his staff on legislative matters of concern to the ACLU, for which he received an award for his excellence. He also worked in the Legislative Office of the American Bar Association and as a volunteer for other liberal Washington-based organizations.
In 2000, when Sellers feared that the independent candidacy of Ralph Nader could hurt the election prospects for Democratic nominee Al Gore, he organized and spearheaded “Nader’s Raiders for Gore,” securing public support from a substantial plurality of the persons who had earlier served as Nader’s Raiders.
Notwithstanding significant popular media coverage of the Nader’s Raiders for Gore (including appearances by Sellers on all three networks) and the group’s obvious impact, Nader’s strong showing in Florida, most observers agree, lost the state — and ultimately the election — for Gore.
Sellers is survived by his wife of nearly 19 years, Sara-Ann “Sally” Determan, a retired partner in the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson; his brother, Thomas Sellers of San Francisco; two step-sons and four grandchildren. His first marriage to Dorothy Sellers ended in divorce.
Sellers was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington and was a friend of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John, where he owned a home.
In lieu of other gifts, contributions can be made in his memory to Project on Government Secrecy, 1717 K St., N.W., Suite 209, Wash. D.C. 20036.