Richard Douglas Slack
December 25, 1942 – November 14, 2020
Richard Douglas “Doug” Slack lived his life with his ready smile and genuine interest in other people. He never met a stranger. It was common to see a crowd gather around him, as everyone knew they mattered to him. His laughter often rang through the house as he read heard or read something, holding his belly until he could catch his breath to tell what was so funny. He was born December 25, 1942 in Columbus, Ohio and died November 14, 2020 at Querencia Barton Creek in Austin, Texas. His parents, Richard and Evelyn Slack, soon moved to Cardington, Ohio where Doug graduated from Cardington Lincoln High School in 1960. His childhood was spent on his bike or on the baseball field where his coach taught him to play and love the game for the rest of his life. In high school, he played varsity baseball and basketball, and was editor of the yearbook.
He gave much credit to his teachers, family and friends in his small hometown for encouraging him to be the first in his family to attend college.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Cardington Lincoln School Hall of Fame in recognition of his life accomplishments. In 1964, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biology from Bowling Green State University where he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the ROTC. During his first year of graduate study at The Ohio State University, he hitch-hiked across Ohio many times to visit his high school sweetheart at college. Charlotte Beard transferred to join him at The Ohio State University, and they were married on August 29, 1965. They lived on West 11th Ave. in Columbus as managers of a student rooming house to help make ends meet.
Doug earned his Master of Science in the Department of Biology and Zoology in 1966. He conducted research on the behavior of a pair of river otters and was charged with the care of the otters in their large aquarium adjacent to the classroom building. Many times, he woke in the middle of the night wondering, “Did I remember to turn off the water?” or “Did I remember to close the gate?” He and Charlotte got dressed and walked two blocks to the building so he could verify his questions. Doug fulfilled his obligation to the ROTC with three years in the US Army, including a tour in Viet Nam in the quartermaster corps where he was exposed to Agent Orange. After a healthy, vigorous life, the Agent Orange eventually led to his contraction of diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.
He returned home with the rank of Captain and enrolled at The Ohio State University for work on his Ph.D. His research on the behavior of catbirds took him to a rural property where he logged endless hours of observations. The property owners said laughingly, “You don’t know when to come in out of the rain!”
A journalist for the Columbus Dispatch wrote a weekly comic strip titled “Professor Naturebug” and chose Doug’s catbird study as the topic of his column. Doug is one of the very few humans to have been featured in the funny papers.
After earning his Ph.D, he applied for a job in Ohio and the surrounding states. He also sent an application to Texas A&M University because an Army buddy was studying there. Never having been in Texas, the interview team took him to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. After one bite of the spicy food, he drained his water glass, asking for more. When he was offered a job, he and Charlotte agreed that he’d take the position in the Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences Department with the understanding that he would keep looking for a better opportunity. However, Texas A&M turned out to be the perfect place for his work in wildlife ecology. He never left, concluding his career as Professor Emeritus after 38 years.
Doug was awarded the Regents Professor Award in recognition of his outstanding service and commitment through professional contributions to the university. He was recognized as a national expert in Black-capped Vireos and the endangered Whooping Cranes. He authored numerous professional journal articles, reviewed articles for many major journals in his field, and secured millions of research dollars for the university, including the largest grant in the history of the department. His work was an essential factor in the establishment of the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Preserve, a system of preserves of 30,500 acres managed by Austin and Travis County that serve as habitat for eight endangered species and other species of concern. He co-authored a field research laboratory manual for students that has been in continuous use since 1982. He developed drop-net trapping techniques for marsh birds now used nation-wide on birds and mammals. He served many years as assistant department head.
As member of the Texas A&M Chancellor’s first leadership development institute, Doug spent a semester working with the administration of the Texas A&M Prairie View campus study their unique place in the TAMU system. He also flew to the TAMU Qatar campus to help strengthen their Faculty Senate. Doug was elected as Speaker of the Faculty Senate at Texas A&M, the representative body for faculty participation in university. As Speaker, he led the first, and only, march on the Chancellor’s office over issues of faculty evaluations. Shortly thereafter, he and the Chancellor had drinks together at the country club, much to the surprise of passersby and a testament to Doug’s ability to find the good in everyone he met. He was the keynote speaker at the Texas A&M graduation ceremony on May 12, 2007. When Texas A&M President Robert Gates left the university to return to the Pentagon, Doug was tapped to chair the search committee for his replacement.
A huge fan of Texas A&M athletics, he served on the Athletic Council and was privileged to attend the 75th Anniversary of the Cotton Bowl. There, he met for the first time his life-long hero, Jim Brown, fullback of the Cleveland Browns, considered one of the greatest players of all time. His primary focus at Texas A&M, however, was his students. He loved to teach, and he earned numerous teaching awards. He always had time to talk with students who sought his wise counsel. One student remembers that he was the turning point in her life, giving her encouragement and suggestions for a path forward that allowed her to succeed. She recalls, “He exuded reality and vital truth in everything he did and said.” Another described him as “the formidable voice in my life for many years.” Under his guidance, 38 students earned graduate degrees, including 13 doctorates.
Doug’s focus on students extended to the department, college and university levels as he participated in initiatives to improve the college learning experience through curriculum development, encouraging international studies, and introducing writing into the science classroom. One student remarked, “Thanks to people like Dr. Slack who gave a lot of themselves to teach young upstarts about how to write effective sentences that people would want to read!”
For a number of years, he initiated and conducted a summer international studies course in the Caribbean Island of Dominica. He chaired a complete revision of the department undergraduate curriculum and created and managed the student honors program in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. He created a popular junior/senior seminar on career management. As part of that class, students rode a bus to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Board of Directors meetings each semester. He was a Fellow of the Center for Leadership in Higher Education and a Wakonse Teaching Fellow.
For most of his career, he was the advisor to the student chapter of The Wildlife Society professional organization. He arranged for students to attend the national meetings to connect with the leading researchers in the field. He also coached the student “Wildlife Bowl” quiz team and was never prouder than when they won state, regional and national competitions. Each spring on parents’ weekend, the student chapter hosted a wild game BBQ and served wild hog, various varieties of venison, elk, antelope, snake, alligator, turtle, etc.
He served as president of the Texas Chapter and the Southwest Chapter of The Wildlife Society and earned the designation of “Certified Wildlife Biologist” from that organization. He initiated professional networking events for students and created a competition for the outstanding graduate paper. One of Doug’s proudest moments was when his father came to visit from Ohio, and Doug invited him to one of his classes. His father, a factory worker who had not graduated from high school, always encouraged Doug to get a good education. His father sat on the back row of the large lecture hall. When Doug introduced him to the class, the students clapped and cheered. On the way home, his dad said, “Don’t give up your day job.”
Besides his career activities, he was active in various civic and church groups. He and Charlotte founded the homeowners association in Foxfire, their rural subdivision, and Doug served as the first president. He led the successful initiative to annex Foxfire to the city of College Station by hand-carrying a petition to every home in the sprawling neighborhood of one-to-three acre lots. Later, he served a period of years on the College Station Planning and Zoning Commission.
After retirement, Doug served as executive director of the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society. In this position, he often testified in legislative hearings on issues related to wildlife and the environment. A professional lobbyist commented that he’d never seen a legislative committee swayed by testimony until he heard Doug in action. One colleague called him “a giant in our world.”
For his last lecture before retirement, students were amazed to see him walk into the classroom wearing a tuxedo. He dedicated the class to his four grandsons. He wanted to leave a lasting impression regarding the students’ responsibility to use their skills, science and creativity to maintain the earth’s biodiversity. A photo and a heartwarming story about his last lecture appeared on the front page of the local newspaper.
Despite Doug’s many professional and civic accomplishments, his first priority has always been his family. Doug and Charlotte celebrated 55 magical years together on August 29, 2020, a team in every sense of the word. He doted on their daughters, rarely missing their events of any kind. Doug is survived by his wife Charlotte Beard Slack; daughter Kathleen Noack, her husband Chris of Austin, grandsons Andrew and Steven; daughter Sandra Glover, husband Eric of Guilford, Connecticut, grandsons Edward and Henry; brother Roger Slack of Cardington, Ohio, nieces Kelli Heiser, Danielle Butzier, and nephew Michael Slack; Aunt Loretta Irons of Cardington, Ohio; numerous extended family members; and friends in abundance.
For those wishing to make a donation in Doug’s honor, please consider the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, Attention: Dr. Doug Slack Memorial, PO Box 861, Del Valle, TX 78617 or online at https://tctws.org/support-us/
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Richard Douglas Slack
November 21, 2020
Doug and I walked many paths together while at TAMU, and we always found ways to solutions that seemed controversial at the time, but always worked out. That continued after Doug retired and served as Executive Director of Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society as we spent many long evenings waiting to testify on some conservation issue. Doug then passed that baton to me and I still rely on his history with TCWS to guide me in this role.
That upper room in Nagle Hall at TAMU was hallowed ground with the likes of Nova Silvy, Jack Inglish, Wendel Swank and Doug Slack. All my dear friends.
November 20, 2020
My dad, Ron, was teaching with Dr Slack at the time I was born and he called my dad and said- ‘Pink or blue?! Pink or blue?!’ And that day he gave the pink version of the test!
I owe a lot to this man and will be forever grateful for the knowledge he bestowed and for believing in me. He asked the right questions to help me find my path. He mentored me and helped open the door to new pursuits and long lasting friendships. May he Rest In Peace.
Donna Robertson Aderhold
November 19, 2020
I attended Texas A&M for graduate student solely because of Doug Slack. I wandered into Nagle Hall while visiting friends, just to check it out, and met Doug in the hall. He invited me to his office to chat and inspired my ideas of grad school. For the months it took me to apply, decide which school to attend, and decide on an area of focus (snow geese!), I spoke on the phone with Doug numerous times and always hung up the phone elated about the future, no matter how confused or down in the dumps I'd been before the call.
I have too many memories of working with Doug during my years as one of his grad students to recount. One aspect of his advising I always appreciated was how far he would let me run with an idea but always stopping me before I ran over a cliff. That style suited me well. I was working under Doug when the Exxon Valdez rammed Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound spilling North Slope crude into Prince William Sound. Shortly after that he hosted a group of high school students interested in pursuing wildlife studies at Texas A&M. He dressed up as several different types of people to present the varied perspectives on the oil spill and its aftermath, then held a discussion with the students. I will always appreciate his openness to multiple points of view.
I did not know it then, but I was destined to make Alaska my home after graduate school. After 30 years in the state, I now work on the continuing ecological studies of the effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. I work with a fellow Doug Slack PhD student and another Texas A&M waterfowl graduate student from my cohort. Doug's influence has spread far and wide.
I know I am a better person for having Doug Slack as my graduate advisor.
Judit (Vargas) Green
November 18, 2020
When I first started at A&M University in 1980 I was guided by the dean at the time to follow a path in Animal Science because he didn’t think I’d have as much success with a Wildlife & Fisheries Science degree that I originally wanted. I absolutely hated it, but I stuck with it for my first 2.5 years. I finally took my first wildlife class w/ Dr. Slack my Jr. year and I think I heard angels singing when I realized I was finally “home”. I changed majors immediately! Many of my friends and I would hang around Dr. Slack at school, at campus wildlife meetings & BBQ’s, and at Tx Chapter of the Wildlife Society meetings. He had the best smile and the best laugh! He was great at connecting with his students and offered wonderful guidance to us all! I’ve worked for Tx Parks and Wildlife for the past 32 years as a wildlife biologist and his teachings, his encouragement, and his advice helped to mold me into the professional I am today. Heck, it may have gotten me my first job! What a wonderful legacy to know that Dr. Slack’s life work propelled others into conservation efforts throughout the world! We all carry a piece of our great mentors with us in our hearts and in our work. Dr. Slack, you can be proud!
My heart is heavy for the family and friends of such a kind soul. He will be missed so very much!
November 18, 2020
Sending my sincere condolences to the Slack Family. Dr. Slack was my advisor during my undergrad years at Texas A&M, 1985 to 1988. I also worked in the wildlife department as a student worker and had the opportunity to interact with him outside of class, which always left me thinking how glad I was that he was my advisor. He was encouraging, supportive and always had time to talk with one of his students. He cared about us and about our success. Even though my career was outside of the wildlife field, Dr Slack would go out of his way to ask me about my business when he saw me at TCTWS meetings. Like many of my fellow former students I will always remember his snowy egret impression and his great big infectious smile that never failed to leave me with one of my own. How blessed I was to know him!
November 17, 2020
I am extremely saddened to hear of the passing of one of the most beloved Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences professors that I have ever known. Dr. Slack taught one of the first classes in my major and really was instrumental in molding my path toward graduation. His passion for wildlife conservation and for his students is simply indescribable. He continuously went above and beyond to find all of us incredible opportunities in the Wildlife Society. He actively helped us find internships. And he even reached out to me years after graduation to make sure I was happy in my career.
I went about a decade without seeing him, but was blessed with an opportunity to see him one more time at a Wildlife tailgate gathering just a few years ago. I went to shake his hand, but he gave me the biggest hug and I’ll always remember that moment. Health issues were apparent at that time, but his joyous spirit was alive as ever. I know our class was one of his favorites!
God Bless you Dr. Slack! Your presence on this Earth will be remembered and cherished by so many people. We are all better people because of you!
November 17, 2020
Doug Slack was a professor in the wildlife department during the time I was a graduate student working on my masters and PhD. He was a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for me and other students. It was very hard for me as an older student with a daughter, and I worried I was not doing well. He came up to me after one semester and said "I wish I had a dozen students like you, you are doing a great job". I carried his words with me in my heart, and they helped me through the hard times. The world has lost a great scholar, mentor, and teacher. My sincerest sympathy to his family.
November 17, 2020
My deepest sympathy and condolences to Charlotte and family.
Dr. Slack was primarily responsible for my entry into the field of wildlife and wetland science. After a lackluster attempt at chemical engineering, I was encouraged to take the entry level wildlife and range ecology class he co-taught for many years with Dr. Knight. When I witnessed Dr. Slack's impression of a snowy egret and other wading birds, I was hooked. It was a few years later, during an evening talk on one of his Dominica trips that he encouraged me to talk to Dr. Milton Weller about wetlands. These two seemingly routine events in his day, energetic teaching and an encouraging nudge, helped me chart a course to be a wetland scientist. I believe Dr. Slack not only helped figure out how complex things in nature could be better understood, but he had a passion for helping students discover their potential.
The opportunity to help as a student worker on research he and Dr. Dale Gawlik conducted allowed me to see firsthand his mix of creativity, hard work, and humor. I'm sure he influenced countless others similarly through his enthusiasm for science and people. He will be greatly missed. It was a great privilege to have the opportunity to work for him and learn from him.
November 17, 2020
Doug was a wonderful person. I enjoyed seeing and talking with him at TWS meetings. At one meeting, I shared with him that I'm not a hunter, despite many in TWS being hunters. He laughed and told me he wasn't either - we then enjoyed a fun discussion on birds. He will be missed.