I reeled in some really big striped bass, thanks to Randy. I took Steve out for a turkey hunt a long time ago. There was a deep brotherhood, borne from the sky, between Hal and me.
All three are gone now, three men who died over a span of only three months — November, December and January — and who made a big difference in their lives and in the lives of others. What more could you say about anyone in summing up the lives they lived?
None of them could be called young men. They were old, close to my age or older. But all three made their marks — as writers, authors, fish-and-wildlife giants, in rock music — as good, solid men and so much more.
Hal Lyon died in a bizarre boating accident in November, headed for deer camp in New Hampshire. Randy Julius took his life in December, and Steve Wright died of Parkinson’s disease in January. Lyon was 84 but was as fit and as active as a man in his early 60s; Julius was 71; Wright was 78 years old.
Steve would call me, at times, to let me in on what was going on, whether it was a proposed windmill development in the Northeast Kingdom, a tip about an upcoming proposal out of Fish & Wildlife or to talk about his hunting dogs.
He was a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, former teacher and president of Sterling College in Craftsbury, served on the Vermont State Environmental Board and was the New England regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation. There was much more, but I think you get the picture.
The thing I remember most was our first morning in the spring turkey woods. We were moving along, later in May, just up the road from where I live, and I was yelping with a call when I happened to turn around and get a look at my companion. I do this out of habit because there have been times when I have been out with another hunter, looked behind and could see the muzzle of the shotgun pointed in my direction. I was not very kind to any offender in the few cases I witnessed and let them know, in very harsh terms, that what they were doing was taboo.
Not only was Steve’s shotgun held in one hand in the down position, but I had to look twice because Steve did something I have never witnessed before or since. He had the action of his over-and-under shotgun wide open. That is, he would have to close the action before he could pull the trigger. I was impressed by how this man put safety ahead of getting off a quick shot.
We worked a really vocal tom that morning. I did everything I could to try to get that gobbler up a ridge about 60 yards out in front of us. But he never came in to my calls. Still, Steve was gracious and pretty excited that we had a very smart tom, right in front of us, for the better part of an hour.
A few years later, I was talking to Steve and was thrilled to hear that, not only did he kill his first gobbler, but that it was a dandy, one, if memory serves me right, that went over 22 pounds.
Patrick Berry, a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, had a longtime friendship with Steve.
“He could talk about anything with anybody,” Berry said.
Mark Scott, the director of Wildlife with Fish & Game, said that he first met Steve when he was named commissioner back in 1985.
“He was awesome,” Scott said. “He had his heart in wildlife education.”
Steve made it clear to Scott that he was going to push wildlife education in a big way and wanted Scott to spearhead the move.
“He asked me, ‘how can I help you to double our efforts with programs involving teachers and kids?’ The program took off. We helped to put the conservation camps on the map after a big lull in the early 1980s. Our enrollment was dropping. Steve Wanted to put more resources in the program,” Scott said.
The two men hunted wild turkeys together. “I have fond memories of hunting wild turkeys down in Hubbardton. He was an avid bird dog hunter and he was a great fly angler,” Scott said. “He was just out there to value the hunt. He was good man. I know he lived his life for wildlife and for people.”
I could spend this entire piece writing about Hal’s résumé. This man somehow managed to cram into his 84 years what most of us could only dream of: West Point graduate, army officer and airborne Ranger, teacher extraordinaire, book author, college professor and more.
After Hal left the military, he became the assistant to the president of Ohio University and then was appointed, during the Johnson Administration, as assistant deputy commissioner of education, where he helped shape the Great Society’s educational agenda. During a stint with the Department of Education, Hal was program director for the creation of the children’s TV program “Sesame Street.”
But the thing that really bonded the two of us was the fact that we were both former paratroopers. Whenever we met, Hal always made a comment about how we were a brotherhood of the Army airborne.
The last time I saw Hal, during a conference in Massachusetts last April, he talked about how — and Hal was not a man who spouted BS — he took a plane back from California with Sen. Bobby Kennedy and the things they spoke of during the trip. I was simply amazed.
Randy was the kind of man who had the talents of maybe three or four men. A writer, an extremely talented artist, a rock musician until his death and the president of the New England Outdoor Writers for more than a decade. Randy, a resident of Massachusetts, was also one hell of a fishing guide.
He took me and my three sons out on several fishing adventures and a number of outings, all on Cape Cod, with me and my best friend Bob Walker. We always caught fish.
Randy was a fishing guide with an uncanny ability to find striped bass. One morning on the Cape, out with Bob, he worked his boat into a narrow outlet at low tide. The water was so low that, at times, Randy had to pull the outboard engine up and out of the water. Then we would row a bit until deeper water was under us. What the hell, I thought? Then, a little later, we rounded a turn and there, birds were diving into the water, over and over, and striped bass, as well as bluefish, all big, were coming out of the water chomping up the bits and pieces of fish flesh, from smaller fish, that the birds dropped. We cast out, over and over, and brought both stripers and blues into the boat.
I know. All things must pass, as the great George Harrison once wrote. Still, we should pause and reflect on how some people, men and women, leave a mark on us. And we should remember those people because they are, after all, so very rare.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org