Most of the time, I hate bragging. I hate it when I do it (or am tempted to). I hate it when others do it. But I am about to brag on my old man because he is having a once-in-a-lifetime experience this weekend and I am too happy not to share it.
This weekend, at the annual conference of the National Wildlife Society, Dad will receive the Aldo Leopold Award. Named after the conservation leader and founder of the wildlife management profession, this award is like the Pulitzer Prize for professional contribution to wildlife management.
Dad has devoted his entire life to the practice of and education about conservation, wildlife management, and ethical use of natural resources. Some of my earliest memories include attending 4H conferences and seminars where he would teach young people. He taught my brother and I (as well as many of our friends) about hunting, fishing, and the joys to be found in the outdoors. He instilled in us a respect for nature and a belief that one of the many ways that God reveals Himself to humanity is in the world He created. We were raised with the belief that every generation is a tenant generation, with the obligation to responsibly care for and then pass on the abundant natural resources of the world to the next generation.
He spent 20 years in Washington D.C. as the national program leader for wildlife and fisheries in the United States Department of Agriculture. He was the first person to ever hold this position. While in this position he consulted with every land-grant university in the U.S. to help them keep their programs on the cutting edge. He fought blood-draining battles with politicians and bureaucrats to protect regulations for ethical land use. He helped to initiate a program to recruit more minorities into the profession. By the time he retired, more than one of his colleagues referred to him as a legend in the field.
After retiring from the USDA, Dad took a position at Mississippi State University as a research professor in the department of wildlife and fisheries. He influenced the next generation of foresters and wildlife biologists while continuing the fight for responsible wildlife management by advocating for fair-chase hunting and other ethical practices. He also helped to found and is still a leader of the Fellowship of Christian Conservationists. He retired from MSU in 2005 and is still in demand as a writer, speaker, and consultant. He has not lost his passion for educating people about his vocation and avocation.
I have always been proud to be one of his sons for a number of reasons. But this weekend I am proud that my old man is getting his due. I am proud of the number of people who have pushed for him to get this award. I am proud that he was too humble to “buck” for it. And I am proud of the example that he has provided to me. If I am lucky I will leave half the mark in my field that he has left in his.
Congratulations, Dad. You earned it.