It is with sadness that we report the death of Ernest P. “Buck” Edwards, Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology, emeritus. He died on Tuesday, Sept. 27 in Lynchburg at the age of 92.
Edwards grew up on the Sweet Briar campus. His father was a physics professor at the College from 1927 to 1943 and his mother, a librarian. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1940, and then earned his doctorate from Cornell University. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War.
After his military service and time at Cornell, he worked as a civilian with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps in Frederick, Md. where he met his wife, Mabel Thacher. After they married and before coming to Sweet Briar, he taught at Hanover College, served as associate director of the Houston Museum of Natural History, and then taught for five years at the University of the Pacific in California.
Buck came to Sweet Briar in 1965, and taught ornithology, ecology and field natural history in the biology department until his retirement in 1990. He was probably best known as having been Sweet Briar’s ornithologist, or “bird man,” for decades. He wrote several books and field guides including, “Finding Birds in Mexico,” “Finding Birds in Panama,” “A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas” and “A Field Guide to the Birds of Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
In addition to birds, Sweet Briar’s hardwood forests were of special interest to Buck. He established permanent research plots in three of Sweet Briar’s forests, and he was instrumental in expanding the college’s network of nature sanctuaries.
He and Mabel knew every fern, orchid and wildflower on Sweet Briar’s 3,250 acres, and they were a distinctive pair as they rambled the forest trails. Buck, taller than 6’4”, always wore a fedora and carried binoculars around his neck; Mabel, white-haired and diminutive, always wore blouses embroidered with wildflowers or birds.
In 1991 Buck and Mabel used their botanical knowledge to produce an exhaustive, annotated list of the vascular plants growing in Sweet Briar’s forests. The forest plots, sanctuaries and plant list are valuable educational and research assets for the biology department, and will serve as a legacy from Buck and Mabel to future generations of students.
Buck is predeceased by his wife, Mabel, who died in 1996.
He is survived by a sister-in-law, Anne Hill Edwards ’45 of Portsmouth, Va., niece Anne Cary Edwards of Newport News, Va., nephews Dr. H. Berryman Edwards Jr. of Bellevue, Wash., Dr. Preston H. Edwards of Galax, Va., Dr. Benjamin G. Edwards of Chapel Hill, N.C., and their families.
A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 at Westminster Canterbury, 501 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503.