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Inspiring Generations of Students

Dedicated Teacher

Melissa Pitkin

Photo couresy Wes Johnson.
A devoted teacher who relished every chance to engage with people curious about wildlife, Rich was brilliant as an interpreter in the field. He and I collaborated over 15 precious years—as student (me) and teacher (Rich). We were also educator colleagues and co-leaders of special field trips for PRBO friends.

His ability to find and see birds was beyond the ordinary. For each bird, Rich gave detailed identification tips—physical features, behavior, and of course the ‘feel’ of the bird. Spending the day with him was like getting bits of his “Focus” columns delivered live.

Rich was also an invaluable member of our Education and Outreach team at PRBO. He tirelessly and happily answered all our questions with clear and caring explanations, filled with interesting factoids about winged creatures (birds, dragonflies, butterflies). He documented PRBO’s history with stories that only he could know. He embodied team spirit: he had our backs and was always ready to help out as he could.

Rich was constantly searching for ways to make a positive difference, and one result of this philosophy was his eagerness to help teach other teachers. He relished his time in the field with classroom educators during our annual training program through the Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW) Project. He gained great satisfaction from knowing that each teacher he met had the opportunity to pass along their knowledge and love of the natural world to students for decades to come.

Says Laurette Rogers, STRAW Project Director, “Rich’s passion for nature and his amazing ability to convey his insights inspired our STRAW teachers at Watershed Week. When we walked with Rich to the willows along a creek, we marveled at what he found there and shared with us. His teaching is now inspiring new generations of environmentally aware citizens.”

Rich’s ability to light the fire of enthusiasm for birds and nature in young people was one of his many remarkable talents. He recognized the intensity and passion of budding ornithologists and mentored many throughout their youth. For children, he lowered his spotting scope, patiently helping them until their smiles appeared, indicating they saw the bird in clear focus and detail.

For the 20-year-olds just arriving as PRBO interns—some with no field experience and little (if any) time spent birding—he kicked off their internship with a “day with Rich.” Most of them noted this day as a significant and sometimes life-changing highlight from their time at PRBO.

One of these special days included three interns from Central America who spoke very little English. Rich delighted all of us with Acorn Woodpecker granaries, a Red-shouldered Hawk nest, and a gopher snake in the hand, plucked casually from the grass as we walked by. Words did not matter then. The connection to nature and excitement transcended language.

Teaching others well is our gift to future generations and the natural world. Rich was a passionate and dedicated teacher, and PRBO’s team of educators is far greater for having known him.

We have lost a valuable friend and teacher but keep with us the many lessons he shared. We will follow his example and carry on his legacy—connecting students of all ages to the wonders of the natural world and our role in protecting it.