Category: In Memoriam

Lee Merriam Talbot – 1930 to 2021 – A tribute by Russell Merriam Talbot

Lee Merriam Talbot – 1930 to 2021 – A tribute by Russell Merriam Talbot

Lee Merriam Talbot – 1930 to 2021
A tribute by Russell Merriam Talbot
May 7, 2021

My father, Dr. Lee Merriam Talbot, died last week. He was a truly towering figure. I think of him as an amalgamation of the best aspects of John Muir, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond. But I think he was humbler and, arguably, more influential than any of those characters.

He was a primary architect and author of, among other things, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Convention on Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), and the World Heritage Convention. He was the Senior Scientist and Director of International Affairs of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the West Wing of the White House for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. He was Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Most recently, he was teaching and advising graduate students at George Mason University as a professor of environmental science and policy through this current semester. Over the course of his careers, he wrote over 300 scientific, technical, and popular publications and advised on environmental issues in over 130 countries.

He also loved racing cars. His first professional race was in 1948 (when he was 18 years old) and his final race was in the autumn of 2017 (when he was 87 years old). For those 69 years, he enjoyed competing – and frequently winning – in a wide variety of vehicles and types of races, including dirt track sprint cars, dirt and ice rallying in production-based cars, and grand prix and road racing in formula cars, sports racers, production, and vintage race cars. For most of this career, his number of choice was #62. Pretty much the only type of racing he had no interest in was oval track racing, which he considered to be boring.

I don’t think he could have accomplished nearly as much as he did without his closest confidant and partner, my mother, Marty Talbot. Within six weeks of their first date in 1959, they had gotten married – in grand style, of course – and traveled to East Africa to conduct scientific research in the Serengeti / Maasai Mara ecosystem. Marty had recently co-founded the Student Conservation Association but decided that a life with Lee was more important than continued leadership there. For the 62 years since then, they supported each other, adventured together, and raised two boys together.

Of course, I knew him as just my dad. Although he was frequently out of town for work, he was a very engaged dad to both my brother and to me when he was around. We bicycled, skied, camped, backpacked, and traveled together. He was my Cub Scout leader when I was young. He arranged his schedule to have summers off while I was in elementary and middle school so that all of us could travel around the country, visiting relatives, friends, and National parks in a van that he let us ‘help’ him convert into a camper in 1983. As I got into rowing, he made a point of traveling to watch me race up and down the East Coast and even in England (twice!!!).

Therefore, it should be no surprise that, as a kid and young adult, I assumed that his life and work was pretty standard fare.

  • Don’t most people find themselves in small plane crashes and escape without a scratch?
  • Lots of people spend the better part of their first seven years of marriage living out of a Land Rover doing groundbreaking ecological research in East Africa, right?
  • It’s normal to regularly return from a long work trip in Asia late on a Friday night and then pack up the race car and tow it to a track early Saturday morning, isn’t it?
  • Most kids learn how to behave and be polite when foreign dignitaries come over for dinner, don’t they?
  • Being charged by a lioness while you’re alone on foot and needing to sever her vertebrae with a single shot as she is pouncing on you happens to most everyone at some point, right?

Watching James Bond movies seemed like a slightly modified version of regular life (with certain obvious differences).

His passing, well into his 91st year, was both inevitable and inconceivable. I intellectually know that no one can live forever, but I also know that my father was not an ordinary person.

While making an early ascent of the East Face of Mt Whitney in 1949, his partners and he had to make an unplanned bivouac high on the wall. Everyone at his college thought they had perished. They emerged chilly but unscathed the next day.

He broke his back in the early 1950s when he was a hand-to-hand combat instructor in the U.S. Marines. Military doctors told him he’d never walk again. He disagreed.

During an early running of the Malaysian Grand Prix, his car flipped into a ditch. His legs were wedged in the car, his head was pinned between the car and the ground, and his body sagged into the ditch. Helmets and other safety features were not required, and multiple drivers died during the race. Naturally, he had researched the efficacy of quality helmets and chose to wear the best one he could get. His helmet kept the weight of the car off his head and bystanders helped roll the car off him. He walked away. This is just one of the countless occasions he was in spectacular auto racing wrecks – many of which I witnessed and none of which left him worse for wear.

As referenced above, he survived an airplane crash. While conducting an aerial survey for the government of British Hong Kong in the early 1960s, his plane experienced mechanical problems and crash landed in a harbor, hitting rocks and pinwheeling through the cold, frothing water. He swam to safety, later describing in vivid detail the difficulty of determining which direction was up, while escaping the still-tumbling wreckage.

He and my mom went on backcountry trips into their 80s. One time, maybe about 10 years ago, they were descending a steep pass in the Sierras when a foothold broke and dad tumbled over a hundred feet down a cliff. My mom performed first aid to stop the bleeding, stabilize him, and then helped him hike out to safety. After spending a couple days at the hospital in Bishop, he was released looking like someone who had been attacked by a grizzly bear. Within a month, the scars had healed, and he was back at work. They returned the following summer for more big-mountain scrambling.

Medical issues simply did not stick with him. He refused to even mention his prostate cancer in public in the late 1990s, perhaps because of the social stigma around cancer at the time or perhaps because the brachytherapy treatment he chose was successful and did not impact his quality of life. In the mid-1980s, a doctor noticed an abnormality in his hemoglobin and diagnosed him with primary myelofibrosis, a bone marrow cancer with a life expectancy of five to ten years. Of course, he ignored it and continued living his life to its fullest. Over thirty years later, in 2018 while working in a remote region of Laos, the condition became critical, soon requiring regular blood transfusions, eventually one every week or so. We later learned that he had been functioning for years with half the red blood cell counts of normal men. In early 2019, he found a stage two clinical trial out of Mt Sinai in New York for a new treatment of the disease. His body responded well to the experimental medication and reversed his dependence on transfusions. He went for over a year without needing a single transfusion. In late March of this year, his use of the medication was put on hold due to another, minor medical condition. Unfortunately, the weeks that followed witnessed a rapid drop in his red blood cell counts and resulting complications. With no medication keeping the myelofibrosis in check, he declined quickly and required almost daily blood transfusions.

He passed peacefully at his home last Tuesday while surrounded by his wife of 62 years, Marty, and his sons, Lawrence and Rusty.

To my knowledge, my dad was never that into poetry, but when I was young, he introduced me to a poem that seems to have been his guiding light and has certainly become mine. The poem is “IF” by Rudyard Kipling and it ends with the following:

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

We are planning to have a celebration of his life sometime in the coming months.

If you are able to make a donation in his memory, there are two items that we think he would particularly appreciate:

  • The Defenders of Wildlife (www.defenders.org) is one of the organizations that he strongly supported.
  • Jennifer Lewis and her associates at Que Sera Sera Films have traveled the world to make a film about the achievements of Lee and Marty. They are nearing completion of filming and have received backing from many NGOs, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Rachael Carson Council, Flora and Fauna International, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Tax deductible contributions to assist in the completion of the endeavor can be made here: https://fiscal.thegotham.org/project.cfm/1000/There-are-Still-Wizards/
Michael D. Max, FN05

Michael D. Max, FN05

It is with deep sorrow and regret that I convey the news of the passing of Michael D. Max, FN05, ECWG’s Program Director for the past six years. He died of cancer on Sunday, May 31, 2020, days after celebrating his 78th birthday. Michael had a broad background including geology, geophysics, chemistry, acoustics, and information technology. He had received a B.Sc . (History, Geology) from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an M.Sc. (Petroleum & Economic Geology) from the University of Wyoming, and a Ph.D. (Geology) from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Michael worked as a geologist/geophysicist for the Geological Survey of Ireland, for which he carried out detailed scientific mapping and established a nearshore exploratory unit involving scientific diving. Then he was at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, working on shallow water acoustic propagation prediction. This is where I first met him. He also worked at the NATO’s Undersea Research Center in La Spezia, Italy where he conducted at-sea experiments and designed and carried out operational technology applications involving major research vessels.

Last year he regaled our Chapter with a presentation describing aeromagnetic surveys he conducted around Antarctica. From 1999 to 2011 he was CEO and Head of Research for Marine Desalination Systems LLC, a small innovative R&D company which established a hydrate research laboratory and explored industrial applications of hydrate chemistry as a government contractor under DARPA and ONR. At the time of his death, he was a principle and an active member of Hydrate Energy International, which is a consulting company specializing in unconventional natural gas, particularly natural gas hydrate (www.hydrate-energy.com).

Michael authored many scientific publications and three textbooks, a number of map sheets, and several GIS/relational database operational geographic digital maps. He assisted in the writing of the U.S. Gas Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000. Michael was appointed by the Secretary of Energy to the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee of the Department of Energy for 2014–2018, and was Co-Chair, Diving Committee of the Marine Technology Society. He was an Adjunct Professor in the School of Geological Sciences of University College, Dublin, Ireland, at which he was currently supervising a Post-Doctoral research student. Michael was involved with over 40 patents and patent applications.

Michael’s membership’s included the: Geological Society of America, Geological Society of London, American Geophysical Union, American Chemical Society, Explorers Club (Program Director, ECWG), Marine Technology Society (Vice-Chair and Co-Chair Diving Committee), Coast Guard Auxiliary (Vessel Inspector), Acoustical Society of America, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, amongst others. He is survived by his wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Rachel, a graduate student in Hamburg, Germany. Services will be private.

Bruce F. Molnia, Ph.D.

Ambassador Alan Wood Lukens ME’78

Ambassador Alan Wood Lukens ME’78

Obituary published in The Washington Post from Jan. 8 to Jan. 9, 2019 and courtesy of RAPP Funeral and Cremation Services:

Alan W. Lukens, a former diplomat and active member of the DC community for 68 years, died January 5, at his home in Chevy Chase, MD. Cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Ambassador Lukens’ public service spanned four decades. He was born in Philadelphia and attended Episcopal Academy. He interrupted his university studies at Princeton and served with the 10th Mountain Division and the 20th Armored Division in Europe, where his unit liberated the concentration camp at Dachau. In 2015 the German Government invited Amb. Lukens to return for the 70th anniversary of the liberation and he joined Chancellor Merkel at the podium, representing US troops. Mr. Lukens graduated from Princeton University with honors as part of the class of 1946, finishing in 1948, and he remained active in Princeton alumni affairs his entire life, including serving as class Secretary and President.

Mr. Lukens joined the Foreign Service in 1951 and served for 36 years. He served in Istanbul, Ankara, Martinique, and Paris, then in 1960 he represented the US at independence ceremonies for Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, and Congo and opened the US Embassy in Brazzaville. He returned to Brazzaville as US Ambassador from 1984-1987. In the intervening years he served in Bangui, Paris, Rabat, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Dakar, Nairobi, and Copenhagen, and Consul General Cape Town.

In Washington he ran the Junior Officer Division in the Bureau of Personnel and worked on Western European Affairs. Amb. Lukens was co-chairman of the Peace Commission of the National Cathedral from 1997-2002. He served as President of DACOR, the retired diplomats foundation and club. He belonged to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, the American Foreign Service Association, the Explorers Club, and the Woodrow Wilson House Council. He was a member of the Board of Governors of the Chevy Chase Club and President of the American Friends of Turkey.

Amb. Lukens is survived by his wife of 56 years, Susan Atkinson Lukens, and by his four children, Lewis (and Andrea) Lukens, Francie (and Jeff) Bennett, Susie Lukens, and Timothy (and Jenny) Lukens, and ten grandchildren.

Ambassador Alan Wood Lukens Wikipedia Page

Michelle Ridgway: 1963-2018

Michelle Ridgway: 1963-2018

Michelle Ridgway

Dear Friends of Michelle, if you haven’t heard, Michelle passed on in the early hours of yesterday morning (01-03-2018).

She was the sole occupant of a single car accident Friday afternoon. The accident took place at 22 Mile Glacier Highway, north of Auke Bay, in Juneau. She was flown to Seattle for critical care treatment that evening, but died about 24 hours later.

For those who didn’t know her well (hard to imagine), she was an amazing marine biologist, contributing greatly to the body of knowledge about the Bering Sea. She was also a deep sea sub driver who discovered new marine species as well as a new, isolated canyon, with its own ecosystem, just off the Pribilof Canyon in the central Bering Sea.

Her favorite activities, other than exploring the world’s oceans and discovering their secrets, were sailing those oceans and teaching coastal children how to discover those secrets too. She was a fierce advocate for the marine life and peoples of the Bering Sea and North Pacific.
She was a founding member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, where she served for her entire three terms and she was the environmental representative to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s Advisory Panel for (I think) seven years.

… and needless to say, she was and awesome and true friend. She gave generously and selflessly of her time and resources to each person she met, to make their world a better place to live in, so they could do the same for others. She was an inspiration.

She had done so much and survived so much, that I always thought I would see her again. Whenever we would depart each other’s company, for our “normal lives,” I would have this fleeting vision of us in our 70’s and 80’s laughing and looking back on all that we had done, filling in the details of adventures … no embellishments required.

You will be missed my dear friend … by me, your friends, your family and the world.
Love, thoughts and prayers … always.

With best wishes,
Mead Treadwell, North Pacific Alaska Chair

For more information see:

John Glenn Tribute

John Glenn Tribute

Honoring Our Fallen

On April 6, 2017 at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), a grateful nation laid to rest one of our most profound heroes, Senator John Herschel Glenn, Jr. HON’62.  As the skies wept and solemn rains fell, The Explorers Club Washington Group (ECWG) represented The Club in honoring this great hero and other legendary explorers interred in our nation’s most hallowed ground.  In attendance were President Ted Janulis MR’95 and Barbara

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