March 10th, 2016

A Tribute to Brenda McGowan

Some sad and some beautiful news arrived at the NERI “office” the other day. In the same letter, I learned that Brenda McGowan had died, and also that she had left a bequest to NERI. Both parts of the letter have caused me to reflect upon NERI’s relationship with Brenda, a lovely person whom I wish I’d known better.

Back in the summer of 1994 (I think), NERI was asked to help the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project (PBRP). That group had been working to bring back the depleted population of Western Bluebirds in the hilly region around Newberg, Oregon. The person who had been banding nestlings in PBRP’s nest boxes had died suddenly, in the middle of the nesting season, and the group wanted to keep up their banding efforts. So I met Brenda and Pat Johnston, co-founders of PBRP, and we went out to Chehalem Mtn. and Parrett Mtn. to do some training and banding. Right away it was apparent that these two women had watched the previous bander closely, and so Pat and Brenda quickly became banders under NERI’s permit.

At the end of that season, we met again to deal with the dreaded banding “schedules,” the fearsome forms required by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bird Banding Lab for reporting where, when, and on what bird each band was used. The end-of-season meeting became an annual event which I always looked forward to because of these two wonderful women. We frequently got ourselves so tangled up sorting through the data and the way everything had to fit just right into those forms that we pretty much collapsed in laughter. After a break for tea and cookies, we’d be ready to tackle it again, and eventually we succeeded – every single year. Another PBRP volunteer got into the banding and she really made the project into a very good research study. Eventually PBRP obtained its own bird banding permit and so NERI’s involvement ended.

Apparently Brenda really appreciated NERI’s help, and in 1999 she donated some stock in Oracle to NERI, a completely unexpected event. But it was true to Brenda’s personality. She was a very generous person who was dedicated to a number of good causes, not least the welfare of bluebirds and all wildlife, and research into ways to help them thrive.

I had known that Brenda was ill, but hearing of her death was still a shock. Her final gesture towards NERI of making the bequest was not just magnanimous, but also entirely typical of this gracious, lovely, dedicated woman who was so much fun to be around. NERI will have to work hard to be worthy of her trust.