I am honored, and a bit intimidated, to be writing in this special space. This has long been the repository of ideas and observations from John Flicker, Audubon’s president. John stepped down from his post in mid-January after 15 years of extraordinary leadership that advanced this venerable organization’s mission and accomplishments. Now I will serve in an interim capacity while Audubon’s board searches for a new leader to fill John’s shoes. Their task will not be easy.
John Flicker is an amazing person. He has been my hero, and judging from the outpouring of admiration received since his departure, he was a hero to many others as well. His 2020 Vision, crafted in the mid-’90s, became the road map that directed the shape and success of the 21st century Audubon. It envisioned our state offices bringing our mission closer to the land and the people. It refocused the organization on its historic passion and purpose of bird conservation. And it fueled the spread of Audubon centers to educate and inspire the next generation of nature enthusiasts and stewards. This resonated loudly with me because, in many ways, I am a product of the Audubon vision.
My beloved grandfather Frank Rockingham Downing took me on walks afield to find birds when I was very young. When I was seven, he showed me a Song Sparrow at a birdbath. He let me look through his well-worn binoculars (we didn’t have “bins” back then) and showed me how to identify the bird. That was it—my Wow! moment. My life as a birder had begun. From a Song Sparrow 61 years ago to my first Ivory Gull last winter and a bird-of-paradise in New Guinea last fall, it has been my quest to see them all—and to help them survive and thrive.
John Flicker understands how birding experiences, Audubon chapters, and centers can change lives, as they changed mine. He nurtured this organization to build on that power. Today our network of state offices, chapters, and centers has its own strong momentum, just as John foresaw. Our staff and management team have the skills and vision to achieve ever-greater conservation success and to make us proud. John will help out, too. Though he is no longer president, he hopes to redirect his tireless energies to help Audubon conserve birds and their habitats, without the distractions of managing the booming organization he built.
Personally, I am both honored and humbled by the Audubon board’s request to serve until the much-anticipated arrival of John’s successor. I am heartened by constant encouragement and offers of assistance from staff, volunteers, and Audubon supporters. And I am buoyed by the power of our unique identity: Audubon is about birds and people and the wonderful things that can happen between them. I thank Audubon for the rich and wonderful journey it has given me. I look forward to keeping John’s ship on course, if only for a short while.
Staying the Course
Frank Gill is an acclaimed ornithologist who served as Audubon’s chief scientist from 1996 to 2005, before being elected to National Audubon’s board of directors. A former vice president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and past president of the American Ornithologists’ Union, he is the author of the acclaimed textbook Ornithology 3e. Gill rejoined the Audubon staff as interim president in January 2010.
Back to Top