Thank you Gige
There were a lot of strangers in the Town of Stockbridge on Saturday, May 13. Governor Charlie Baker was here as well as Lieutenant Governor Karen Polito. EOEEA Secretary Matt Beaton, former EOEEA Secretary and State Senator Bob Durand, former State Senator Stephen Brewer, several former Fish & Wildlife Commissioners including Walter Bickford, Dave Peters, Mary Griffin and current Commissioner and former State Representative George Peterson, former Director of the MA DFW Wayne MacCallum and current Director Jack Buckley, MA Senator Anne Gobi, and Representative Kulik from Worthington. There were several former and current Fish & Wildlife Board members, officers of the Mass Sportsmen Council and the Worcester County League of Sportsmen.
They all linked up at the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club with local State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, Senator Adam Hinds, former Berkshire Natural Resources Chairman George Wislocki, current BNRC Chairman Tad Ames, current F&W Board member and President of the Mass Outdoor Heritage Foundation Steve Sears, and a whole host of sportsmen, DFW personnel and environmental dignitaries. There was even a man there that claimed to be an official from the Town of Ripton, MA. Those who couldn’t attend such as current F&W Board Chairman Joe Larson and former Governor William Weld sent letters and gifts.
They were there to celebrate 88-year old George “Gige” Darey’s retirement from the MA Fish & Wildlife Board. Gige didn’t want a retirement party and only agreed to it when he learned that it was also a fund raiser for the Massachusetts Outdoor Heritage Foundation which he and MacCallum co-founded. There was not an empty chair in the place and everyone who attended personally knew and/or worked with Gige over the years. Co-Chairmen for the event were Durand, Peters, MacCallum and Sears, and what a great event they put together.
Space does not allow me to mention all of the people and wonderful words said about Gige. Don’t get me wrong, they also took advantage of the opportunity to roast him and to mention some “spoof’s” that they participated in with him over the years. Appeals Court Judge Joseph Trainor did an excellent roasting job.
Rep. Smitty Pignatelli said that he couldn’t think of anybody who has taught him more about the importance of conservation of open space and protection and the rights of sportsmen than Gige. . He repeated a phrase once told to him by the late Bill Wilde (of Highlawn Farm), “Our natural beauty is more valuable than an oil well in Saudi Arabia.”
Senator Hines noted that his work and had an impact. “ It made a difference”. After making wonderful comments, State Senator Gobi presented him the Red Poppy Award, (for Korean War veterans). After Peters and Durand related some comical past events and listed many of Gige’s accomplishments he was presented an award from the Mass Outdoor Heritage Foundation.
Rep. Kulik read a resolution from the MA House and Senate, congratulating him on the occasion of his retirement. It recognized his 38 years on the Board of which 35 as its chairman and the fact that he was first appointed by Governor Michael Dukakis, served under the 7 subsequent governors, preserved thousands of acres of vital wildlife habitat while providing public access and making the MA F&W Board one of the most respected wildlife agencies in the country. It noted his establishment of the Non-Game Advisory Board, passage and implementation of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Act, institution of the Wild Wings Conservation Stamp, the development of the core habitat protection and the development and expansion of many youth programs.
BNRC’s George Wislocki and Tad Ames noted that Gige was one of the founders of Sportsmen for Land Preservation and helped raise over $300,000 over the period of 6 years, which was crucial for the survival of the BNRC. “He cemented a relationship of the BNRC with the sportsmen of Berkshire County”.
Mike Roche, member of the MA F&W Board announced that the Board created an award in Gige’s name. “ From this time forward there will be a Gige Darey Award to be presented to a MassWildlife staff member who exemplifies the values, work ethics and standards that George created.”
Former DFW Director Wayne MacCallum described the F&W Board. It sets policy, regulatory authority and has to approve the hiring of every person appointed to the DFW. “George was absolutely incredible in terms of requiring that all appointments were made with the most qualified people. He was a strong advocate in support of professional natural resource management. Not only in Massachusetts, he is legendary throughout the country for the programs the MA DFW has instituted He is a fierce fighter for the environment. Much of what you see here (open space) has to do with George Darey. Under George’s leadership, the DFW went from a hooks and bullets agency to an integrated agency incorporating the protection of many different species”. They haven’t had a license increase since 1996.
On behalf of his and his son’s generation, EOEEA Secretary Matt Beaton thanked him for his inspiration. Lt Governor Polito commented on Gige’s long service and mentioned that his services were all for free. (Other than travel expense reimbursement, F&W Board members are not paid). She thanked Gige for sharing so much of his time, energy and love for this Commonwealth. He is a great friend to all sportsmen. “Having Gige on this Board for 38 years chairing it for 35 years absolutely mattered here in the Commonwealth”, she said.
Gige took a little razzing from Beaton and Governor Baker for missing 5 of those Board meetings out of 400 over the course of 38 years. Twice as a pall bearer, once an ice storm prevented him from getting through, a health issue and one day to go bird hunting.
Governor Baker said that “George is a hero, not just because of the time he spent on the Board but the good work that was done. We all benefit tremendously from the coalitions that he built. We live in a difficult age where people draw very bright lines and have trouble viewing any other point of view but their own and are really not that experienced in coalition and finding common ground. One of the truly great things is that he found common ground all of the time, and he had a core set of principles. He understood that he was one player among many and he never forgot that. “
“He worked extremely hard to figure out where the common ground was and where the opportunity was to support the stuff that he cared so much about. Along the way he created a bunch of public and private institutions that stood the test of time and will be here for a very long time. The legacy is not just the history but its also what is going to happen going forward because those institutions are in place and will continue to perform long after the rest of us have gone on to do other things. “You are such a son of Massachusetts”, Governor Baker said, “and you have meant so much to the Commonwealth and so much to the people of the Commonwealth”.
In accepting his citations, awards and standing ovation, Gige commented on how much his partner Ginny Acabane meant to him and how lucky he is. Referring to his service on the Board, he said, “The ride that I have been on, I would not change one bit”. As to the sportsmen, he said that he has enjoyed working with them and was very proud to represent them.
All attendees were given a memento coffee mug. On one side is a picture of Gige with his faithful Brittany Spaniel, Éclair. (In a joint effort of the F&W Board and local sportsmen, that dog was purchased and imported from Brittany, France and was presented to Gige by Mike Roche on March 9, 2013, following the early, unexpected death of his previous dog).
On the other side of the mug were words that really struck me: “A hundred years from now, if fish still swim in our rivers and deer still prance through our fields, if we can recognize the view from atop our favorite Berkshire heights, we will in large measure have George L. “Gige” Darey of Lenox to thank. For nearly a quarter-century now as Chairman of the State Fish & Wildlife Board and at the center of a network of conservative groups, Mr. Darey has devoted his time, energy and powers of persuasion to making sure we and our children will have woods to walk in and game to shoot.” October 12, 2002, Berkshire Eagle editorial.
Pictured seated are George “Gige” Darey and his partner Ginny Acabane. Standing are Lt. Governor Karen Polito and Governor Charlie Baker. Picture provided by S. A. Sears Photagraphy