Don’t Let It Die!

So extolled a young George Folkerts, party ram-rod with a tall cool one in hand at numerous late-night bo-zo (botany-zoology) grad student gatherings in Auburn Alabama in the early 70s. He was both friend and mentor to me, to so very many, and now he is gone. I got a call yesterday that he had died suddenly of a stroke on Friday. I’m guessing he was about 65.

He was my bio lab instructor my freshman year. He finished his PhD the next year (in zoology, though his later interests ranged all over the map–my “renaissance man” inspiration). He came back to Auburn after a year at Clemson, and served on my graduate committee.

After we moved to Virginia and I became active in the Mt. Rogers Naturalist Rally, I asked George to come as guest speaker, and that weekend, he and Debbie stayed with us in our little farmhouse near Wytheville. I haven’t seen him since but his reputation and memory among that rare species, the American Naturalist, will live on.

His knowledge was encyclopedic, his dry humor legendary and his kindness and fairness renowned. He left all who knew him and had the chance to field-trip with him a legacy of curiosity, wonder and wisdom. He will be missed. From George’s website:

Although it is not currently fashionable to be interested in teaching, I have a strong involvement in teaching. My research interests are very broad. I also spend considerable amounts of time and effort on environmental issues of many types, especially those related to disappearing habitat types and declining species. Most graduate students that work with me are interested in basic natural history and are in the program because of their love of nature, not merely because of career goals or their wishes to enhance their hireability.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Sorry for your loss, glad you keep the chain of ecologists alive. Every person that shares the passion with another is a part of this web. Acknowledging the roots connects us with the past and future. Thanks for linking to his web site, hope the links remain active.

  2. George was an inspiration to all that came in contact with him. I am one of his two current graduate students that were changed by his field trips and will take those expiriences with me to teach others the importance of that dying breed of naturalists. His passing has left a hole in the scientific community and humanity as a whole that will not be easily filled.

  3. Fred: Hope it’s OK that I linked to this at a new blog we’ve set up to honor and remember George, which might eventually get morphed back into a regular website. It’s not been publicized yet, but you’re welcome to prime the pump by submitting a “George story.” I’m working with Debbie on this. As I’ve said several times, George’s greatest legacy is the conservation ethic so many of his students carry with them. And of course all those great times we had with him.

  4. Only last week did I find out about the passing of George Folkerts. I took his Systematic Evolution course in about Winter Qtr. 1965 and Vert I Spring 1966. I was a Wildlife Mgmt. student. I still laugh in my mind thinking of his silly creatures he drew on the board to illustriate genetics. One of my collections in Vert I was a Diamond Back Water Snake from above the damn at Little River Canyon/DeSoto State Park. George had him the next week in what I remember as a small lab in Funchess. He was illustrating-by-the-numbers how to catch the snake by the tail and then swing it between your legs to catch it, then reaching around to your rear and grabbing its head. By the numbers was too slow and it bit him in the rear–which did not see to bother him very much.

    I think Dr. Folkerts would be glad to know that after a stint in the Army and Vietnam I graduated in 1970. I spent a career in environmental public health. I am showing my 7 year old grandson how to be a naturalist and to care for creation. I can see a smile from George!