Tribute by the Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at:
Memorial Service for former Director John Gottschalk
[NOTE: delivered on September 23, 1999 at the Cosmos Club, WASHINGTON, DC]
I've come here today representing the Fish and Wildlife Service family to say a final good-bye to one of our own. John's career with us spanned from 1945 to 1970; during the last six of which he served with distinction as Director. Back then, the Fish and Wildlife Service was called something else: the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. Although some things like our name have changed, the sense of family that makes the Service such a special organization has remained constant, from John's days to the present. He left his job with us in 1970, but thankfully he never quite left his family at the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last year, John came back to us for just a few days, for what would turn out to be his last "official" visit. He came back to participate in a video-taped discussion among the past and current leadership of the agency; a discussion that included the reflections and visions of four former Directors and myself. John was the elder among us, and as we talked about our experiences and ideas for the future, I listened intently to what he had to say. I regret our time ran out ... he had so much wisdom to offer this Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Two things that were immediately apparent about John: He was a man of compassion and of good humor. During a break in taping the video, John shared a very special T-shirt he had brought with him. It had splatted bird droppings painted on and said "I'm a bird watcher" across the front.
That is actually how I first met John Gottschalk. It was while bird watching with my husband at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in the late '80's. As the sun was setting, it seemed we were the only people there, until we spotted a vehicle making its way toward us. The couple inside didn't know us from Adam, but they said "hello" and pulled up to chat. Well, I was just so excited, because although they didn't know who we were, I recognized the friendly couple as John and Edith Gottschalk. I remember being so thrilled to meet the former Director! We got to talking about birdwatching and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and in the course of our conversation, a flock of geese honked and silence fell over us as we watched them pass overhead and disappear in the distance. It was a simple yet wonderful moment, and it was such an honor to have shared it with John.
I didn't know John as well as many of you in this room have, but I believe that moment we shared speaks volumes about him. John was all about life. You can see that in his tenure as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. He cared about life, and strove to make it better for everyone. He strongly supported the Job Corps program for disadvantaged youth and he strongly advocated creating opportunities for minorities in the Service. I owe him a special thanks, as it was John who opened the door for women to enter into professional careers at the Fish and Wildlife Service.
John showed compassion for all life. His watch as Director saw the enactment of the first Endangered Species Act, dedicated to saving species on the verge of extinction. Here in D.C., he brought joy in life to all employees who worked in the same building he did. We have a pond at the south end of the Department of the Interior, where all sorts of wildlife can be found, and where employees go to take a break, ponder an issue, or enjoy lunch on a sunny day. That pond was built by the Service, with the help of other bureaus, while John was Director.
At the video taping last summer, I learned the one accomplishment John was proudest of as Director; it was the research done at Patuxent that demonstrated how the chemical DDT adversely impacted the egg shells of many bird species; the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon being just two of them. That research was important on many levels. It vindicated Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and it led to the EPA's ban of DDT. John fought hard and long to fund that research. I am so glad that before he left us, John got to see the fruit of his labors. This past July second, with much fanfare at the White House, we proposed the bald eagle for de-listing under the Endangered Species Act. But by the same token, I am saddened that John was not with us for at least a week longer, to see us officially de-list the peregrine falcon -- an event he knew was going to occur and one he deserved to have witnessed. The recovery of both species can be traced to that research done at Patuxent, and for that, we have John to thank.
And that brings me back to my point. John was all about the triumph and the wonder of life. I expect that in passing he would have wanted us to celebrate his life more than to mourn his death. I know I will certainly celebrate his life. Every time I see eagles, falcons, and geese overhead, I'll remember that vehicle coming my way, and I'll share the moment with the memory of the great man who made it possible.
John, I've come to deliver this final farewell to you from your family at the Fish and Wildlife Service: So long, old friend. You've moved on to a better place, but those you've left here thank you for having made this place a better one for all of us.