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S.Dillon Ripley dies aged 87

S.Dillon Ripley died on March 12th 2001 at the venerable age of 87. Amongst his lifetime of accomplishments many birders will remember him as author of "Handbook of the Birds of India" with the late Salim Ali and "Rails of the World". In a tribute from Ken Ringle at the Washington Post, Ringle remembers S.Dillon Ripley's impact on us all. For the full tribute visit the web address at the end.

"For 20 years he headed the Smithsonian, turning it, by the time he left in 1984, from a dusty collection of display cases into a $250 million, 18-institution empire, the most popular such complex in the world, with 30 million visitors a year.

Ripley.. had studied history at Yale, and in the great tradition of the liberal arts between the wars, sought his true postgraduate education in the wider world. He spent 18 months exploring the South Seas aboard a 59-foot schooner, spent almost a year with the Karoon cannibals of New Guinea and returned with 1,300 rare bird specimens for museums and dealers.

He had become fascinated with birds during boarding school in Massachusetts and never stopped studying and writing about them, trailing them around the world from Patagonia to Pakistan. His doctorate in zoology from Harvard was almost beside the point; his subsequent three months as the Smithsonian's assistant curator of birds, perhaps not.

With his wealth, academic and social credentials... Ripley was also one of a generation of establishment "Wise Men" who ....spent most of World War II cloak-and-daggering in India, Thailand and Burma, where he had searched out birds before the war.

In later years the aroma of secret-gathering would follow him to the Smithsonian, among whose appropriations and personnel the Central Intelligence Agency was rumored to hide some of its Cold War activities.

But whatever the legacy of his covert activities... he will be remembered as.... the whimsical, muscular mind of the balding, bird-watching ex-spy who.. built the Smithsonian."

For the full tribute by Ken Ringle read the Washington Post (click here)