With the death of Garrett Eddy on 4 July 2001 in Seattle, Washington, the University of Washington Burke Museum lost one of its most generous donors, a man whose enthusiasm and support had helped transform the museum into one of North America's premier ornithological training centers. Born in Seattle on 8 June 1916, Garrett was a graduate of Harvard University where he studied ornithology with Ludlow Griscom, then a research associate. There, through his undergraduate association with the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Garrett developed a deep appreciation of museums and of the value of systematic collections.
A member of the AOU since 1937, Garrett was elected posthumously as a Guarantor to the AOU in March, 2002 for his generous support of the 119th stated meeting of the society held in Seattle in August 2001. Because he wished students and professionals to see the quality of the Burke's program in ornithology, Garrett arranged to fund the lavish opening reception at the Burke Museum.
Garrett Eddy was retired President and Board Chairman of Port Blakely Tree Farms, a private timber company. Its research in forest management made Port Blakely a leader in thinning stands and in moving from 40 to 80 year rotations between harvests of Douglas fir. These policies were good for wildlife and produced fortunes from the export of logs that were too big for modern mills designed for small second-growth timber. Although the war and the family business precluded Garrett's pursuit of a scientific career, he maintained a life-long passion for scientific studies of birds and forest ecology.
Garrett was an exceedingly private man, but his passions involved mountaineering (in his youth), hunting, forestry, and ornithological research. He was intolerant of low productivity, impatient for results, single minded in pushing ideas, and uncommonly grumpy about things badly done.
When Garrett was full of youthful enthusiasm for field research there were few ornithologists at the University of Washington. Although the Burke Museum was then an ornithological backwater, his father and Joshua Green had contributed more than 800 bird specimens from an east African safari during 1929–1930, and Garrett later contributed Washington specimens. The Burke's director, anthropologist Erna Gunther, had moved the administration of the museum into the academic Department of Anthropology; the curatorial assistant in zoology, Martha Flahaut, labored just to save its small bird and mammal collections. Only in the late 1950s did the Burke Museum appoint ornithologist Frank Richardson as one of its first faculty curators.
For more than 20 years prior to Richardson's appointment, Garrett Eddy was one of Seattle's most important contacts for Northwest birds. He collected early state records, kept extensive field notes, and studied changes in land-bird communities caused by development and logging. In those early years, Roger Tory Peterson once called Garrett to inquire about the eye color of Thayer's Gulls. Garrett had no idea, but invited Peterson to join him for a boat cruise to collect some. They succeeded, and then birded together in eastern Washington.
Garrett directed his early support to mammalogy at the University of Puget Sound where Murray Johnson was applying protein electrophoresis to studies of systematics and building a superb research collection of mammals. Although Garrett helped support ornithology at Puget Sound, he was not happy with their low yield in specimens and publications.
I was appointed Curator of Birds at the Burke Museum in 1972. By the time I met Garrett in 1984, a vital collecting and research program in ornithology was under way. Shortly before we met I had failed to convince the University of Washington to purchase the last great private avian egg collection in North America. That experience convinced me that the Burke had to rely on private gifts. When another collection became available I sought the funds to purchase it. Garrett was on my list.
Garrett responded to my letter with an immediate call asking, “What do you need?” Somehow we agreed on $1,000. Later, at our open house celebrating this new collection, Garrett inquired about our visions and goals. I explained that we first needed to develop comprehensive North American collections for students undertaking comparative studies. Learning that seabirds were our weakest suit, Garrett proposed supporting not one, but two pelagic collecting trips. His only stipulations were that he would drive and that he expected good food: “No canned beans.” We spent a fortune on gourmet sandwich makings and my wife, Brigitte, joined us as lunch chef.
To our delight, this old hunter, lumberman, and navy captain was a fine shot and thoroughly comfortable in the field. As we netted migrating coastal land birds in rain and fog on the day before each boat trip, Garrett happily lugged net poles over dunes and through wet coastal shrub with the rest of us. Our skipper was delighted with his boating skills and knowledge of the seabirds she had so often seen while fishing. Garrett was impressed by the extensive use we made of each specimen—skin–skeleton combinations, extended wings, and gut parasites washed immediately from every seabird. His delight cemented ties between him and the Burke Museum, that soon distinguished our ornithology training program for its generous support of students. Garrett established three major Burke endowments, co-founded a fourth, and was instrumental in establishing the Burke's molecular lab. All of those gifts supported the energy and creativity of graduate students. He also supported 15 years of collecting and lab work on the previously undescribed hybrid zones between Hermit and Townsend's warblers, now one of the best studied in North America.
Immediately after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Garrett's most visionary accomplishment for the Burke Museum was to encourage and support a program of collaborative expeditions to Russia, involving two or more expeditions per summer for 10 years. The papers beginning to emerge from those collections are transforming our understanding of genetic variation among Holarctic species groups and revising our understanding of species limits in Eurasian birds. As part of that Russian program, Garrett generously brought numerous students and museum professionals from Russia to the Burke Museum for short-term training, and helped sponsor the Ph.D. studies of two Russians, one at the Burke Museum and one at the Bell Museum, University of Minnesota.
Three principles characterized those collaborations. First, Garrett held our feet to the fire for results measured in numbers of specimens and published papers. Second, he never meddled. His conservative political and environmental agenda never got in the way of our scientific collaborations, and his support for students was based only on whether they were doing good work. Finally, what he valued most were the scientific “products” of his support—manuscripts and reprints he kept organized in three piles, those from research he funded directly (warblers and Russia), those from students whose stipends came from his endowments, and those from researchers elsewhere who used Burke collections he had helped build.
We at the Burke Museum deeply feel the loss of Garrett Eddy, who died after a long battle with cancer. With his incredible enthusiasm and support, Garrett helped us—even drove us—to become all we could be.