Ray Ashton, one of the Preserve’s founders and our partner in teaching the gopher tortoise classes, died of cancer on March 11, 2010. He was 64. Ray was a noted herpetologist, author, explorer, teacher, researcher, and conservationist. His herpetological field guides, co-authored with his beloved wife Pat, set the bar as the best since they were published in the late 1980s.
Ray dedicated much of his life to conserving natural places in Florida, particularly focusing on the gopher tortoise. In 2008, he published a text on gopher tortoises, representing a lifetime of Ray’s experiences. The work Ray leaves behind is testimony to his boundless energy and passion for Florida and Florida ecology. Ray did things his way and although he could be somewhat irascible and contentious, he was true in his beliefs – there was never any doubt where Ray stood on issues. His “never take no as an answer” quality undoubtedly translated into great strides in tortoise conservation.
If you were one of the countless citizens that were interested or concerned for the tortoise, Ray was the man to ask. With a phone call, he would dedicate himself to assisting you with your issue no matter what the personal cost and investment of time. He was like this until the very end – fielding questions to assist us with the classes while undergoing intensive treatment for cancer.
As many have said, the tortoise lost one of its greatest allies with Ray’s passing. There is a void that will be hard, if not impossible, to fill. We hope to carry on Ray’s legacy in our classes by teaching with an emphasis on the things he felt passionately about. His slides, his words, and his experience are all embedded in the curriculum.
So, as with all losses, we are forced to carry on with the underlying sorrow that with all of Ray’s accomplishments – his passion, his energy, and his legacy – what we will miss most deeply is our friend.
We also wish to remember M.C. Davis, a renowned conservationist who stared Nokuse, a 53,000 acre wildlife refuge, as well as funded the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. Davis was a strong supporter of ABPRI, and will truly be missed – especially by the animals about which he cared so much.