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Endowment Named for Quay, Lifelong Environmental Activist


Dr. Thomas Quay

Thanks to a scholarship endowment that bears Dr. Thomas Quay's name, opportunities will increase for students to grab binoculars, walk through woods and gain field experience, just as Quay has done throughout his career as a student and a professor.

The Thomas Quay Wildlife and Natural Resources Experiential Learning Award was recently established to provide financial assistance to students majoring in environmental sciences and natural resources at North Carolina State University.

Colleagues, friends and former students established the endowment to honor Quay and commemorate the enthusiasm for wildlife, ornithology and teaching that has marked his career. Furthermore, Quay is a historic figure: In 1948, he was one of three students who received the first Ph.D. degrees awarded by N.C. State University.

He spent the next 32 years in the College's zoology department, where he shared his love for wildlife with students. In 1994 he was inducted into the N.C. Wildlife Federation's Hall of Fame.

Quay's fascination with birds began in the Garden State of New Jersey. Growing up, he always loved the outdoors, but it wasn't until he was a sophomore in high school that a creek-side epiphany occurred.

"I heard a doleful sound and looked up and there sitting on a limb was a mourning dove, swelling up and bobbing its head and body with all those glistening, iridescent colors. I thought, 'God, that's beautiful,' " he says.

Quay has heeded that call ever since. "It's always been hard for me to give up something I've started," he says. "This endowment certainly starts something that will not be given up."

Gene Hester, a former student who worked with Quay in the 1950s on increasing wood duck populations, is chair of the endowment. "Dr. Quay goes beyond the classroom to the kind of field work that has him working side-by-side with students. That's what I call a great professor," he says.

Joyce Hatch, a former student who, like Hester, attended the endowment ceremony out of a deep respect and appreciation for Quay, recalls, "He made things come alive."

But just as sound as his rapport with students through the years was his ability to add the experiential component to their education. His hands-on approach to teaching is still admired today.

"Experiential learning is quite appropriate for wildlife students," says Dr. Fred Cubbage of N.C. State's forestry department. "They need to be in the field."

Adds Dr. George Barthalmus, College associate dean and director of academic programs, who reminisced about his former colleague at the endowment ceremony, "He's been a hands-on teacher from day one."

And he still is. Quay, who now refers to himself as a "full-time, volunteer, unpaid environmental activist" continues to participate in the Fish and Wildlife Program through its alumni and development committee. He also serves on the College's Alumni Society board of directors.

While Quay once remarked that he may now be tying ribbons around projects he won't get to finish, his legacy will endure through this endowment. Future students will be able to follow with their hearts the wondrous sounds and the inspiring sights just as 15-year-old Tom Quay did on a spring day more than 70 years ago.

—Andy Fisher