Ward Stone is back.
If you didn’t know the world-famous and former DEC wildlife pathologist was gone, he understands.
“You disappear pretty quickly when you can’t talk,” Dr. Stone said in his first interview since a series of strokes that began a few years ago robbed him of his speech and left him unable to even get out of bed.
“But now, I’m coming back. I’m back.”
Dr. Stone, 78, will be the guest speaker at an event Saturday, September 23 in Cherry Valley being put together by Positive Action: Cherry Valley.
Dr. Stone was a special guest at Cooperstown’s Be Positive Festival Saturday and spent some time at the home of activist friend Elliott Adams in Sharon Springs before that, talking about what he accomplished in his 40 years with DEC and the need to do even more now.
“We improved on a lot of things. PCBs. Cleaning up Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Making people aware of the dangers of mercury, lead…” he said.
“But we keep going back and doing the same things over. We need to step up our work even as the federal government and the state are cutting funding and regulations. And climate change is already having an impact—even as our own government questions the science behind it.”
Dr. Stone left DEC on December 28, 2010—a date he remembers because it’s his birthday—but as a scientist, said he’s never really retired.
He counts his many children as his life’s most important accomplishment; several have gone on to study wildlife biology and he’s still hoping his youngest son will end up studying fisheries at SUNY Cobleskill, where he taught for a few years before his strokes.
“That’s a great school and one of my favorites,” Dr. Stone said. “They look at the whole picture and some of the students I had from when I taught there have gone on to do some amazing things. We need young people in these fields.”
In his years at DEC, Dr. Stone developed a reputation as a maverick who wasn’t afraid to hold the state’s feet to the fire over issues like dredging the Hudson River for PCBs, pesticide use and misuse, regulations, and even rabies and Lyme disease.
It’s a reputation he still relishes.
“I’ve spent my life trying to do something about the terrible environmental destruction I saw, most of it done by industries with a lot of power,” he said. “I wasn’t popular, but I didn’t let that stop me.”
He hasn’t let his strokes stop him either.
When he couldn’t talk and doctors didn’t hold out a lot of hope for much of a recovery, Dr. Stone said he’d close his eyes and mentally revisit his own college classes.
“And my memory was still there. I could remember it all. I knew if I could do that, I could talk again. And I did that too. “
Dr. Stone’s still a little unsteady on his feet—likely a lasting affect of the strokes—“but every day, I’m better. I’m better than I was a year ago, better than I was two months ago. I’m good to go now.”
When he speaks at the Cherry Valley Star Theater (the old village hall), beginning at 7pm on the 23rd, with a Q&A to follow at 8pm, Dr. Stone said he’ll be encouraging.
Environmentally, Dr. Stone said, a lot’s been accomplished and there are a lot of people interested in doing even more, and that’s the good news.
But at the same time, Dr. Stone said, the impact of climate change is already being felt and dealing with that will be one of mankind’s biggest challenges.
Dr. Stone is raring to go and Mr. Adams said it won’t be long before he’s too “big” for venues like Cherry Valley.
“After all, this is a man who testified before the United Nations,” and has every intention of doing so again, Mr. Adams said.
“Ward is back and we need to take advantage of everything he knows and is while we can.”