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Richard Bayard Dominick

 

1919-1976

 

My father's lifelong saying was "Do it N-O-W", an axiom entirely consistent with his remarkable energy, humor, ability, and principle of action. His education included several prominent northern schools (St. Paul's, Yale BA, Columbia MD), but his early life in the South Carolina lowcountry taught him to prize the wisdom of unschooled but richly experienced local people. He respected knowledge above credentials. Dad's treasury of friends included professors and trappers, artists and Eskimos, governors and laborers, ministers, poets and many just-plain-decent people. Character was his sole measure of worth, and while he was expansively generous he was intolerant of waste, dishonor or unkindness. Nearby there was always a framed copy of Kipling's poem 'If', worn and underlined in red pencil. A much-cited line read, "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run..."

During a childhood rich in outdoor experience among the forests, swamps and coastal marshes of South Carolina, he developed an early interest in moth collecting, ably encouraged by his father, himself an accomplished outdoorsman and supporter of science. As a youth Dad assembled an exceptional regional Lepidoptera collection from the area around his plantation home near Coosawhatchie. The American Museum of Natural History gratefully received this collection when he graduated from Yale in 1942 with a BA in English literature.

During World War II he piloted a Dauntless dive bomber for the Marine Corps in the Pacific, receiving several decorations and commendations. After the War, he went to medical school at Columbia, ultimately specializing in eye surgery in New York City. He took me on hospital rounds as a child and I was captivated by the mutual affection he enjoyed with his patients, which stemmed from his care and his lively stories. Throughout he avidly pursued natural history. In the marshes near his Long Island home he literally immersed himself in it. In the late 1950's his unintended plunge into ice-filled waters one January while making a film for Ducks Unlimited made a large impression on my 9 year-old mind. Many unforgettable summers in the 50's and early 60's were spent with him deep in the New Brunswick wilderness at Nictau, a simple fishing and hunting camp that allowed one to live as he most loved, "with the bark on" (a phrase from Frederick Remington, another of his favorites). He explored extensively, particularly in East Africa and in South America, always photographing and writing about the wildlife and customs he encountered, and often collecting Lepidoptera. He was tireless in sharing his broad knowledge, interests and concerns as an outdoor writer, a scoutmaster, a lecturer and a producer of conservation and exploration films, and ultimately as founder and publisher of The Moths of America North of Mexico (MONA) series.

In 1965, he married his lifelong friend, Tania (Djeneeff). This union created an outstanding and enduring family totaling six children (all between 13-21 at the time, a lot of fun). The following year they moved the family back to his beloved lowcountry, near McClellanville, SC where we all flourished. Dad and Tania had found the Wedge Plantation, an indescribably beautiful and fascinating place. There his childhood interest in moths reappeared with passion. He was delighted to find that Klots' (1951) field guide featured specimens from his pre-war collection, but he was unsatisfied with the state of taxonomy and the color printing of the specimens. To him the need to correct this situation was obligatory, and led to the MoNA series and the Wedge Entomological Research Foundation (WERF). He built a laboratory and darkroom for collecting and the photography for MoNA's excellent plates. For nearly 20 years the group of entomologists that initiated MoNA, and legions of other natural scientists (particularly lepidopterists) from both sides of the ocean, enjoyed visits to this inspiring place.

His own 1970 introduction to The Moths of America North of Mexico, "Concerning the origins of this enterprise and the people engaged in its execution," eloquently details the early history of the MoNA project and the friendships and vision that evolved at the Wedge Plantation. A comprehensive, colorful and loving biographic sketch was subsequently written by Tania following his accidental death in 1976. That loss is still felt deeply by many, but more persistent are delights of having known him and the ongoing influence of his vitality.

Oliver S. Dominick
Phippsburg, ME
October 2004

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