Beyer's career an impeccable example of public service

April 09, 2011

There are some people who bring a smile to your face the second you see them.

For me, Bob Beyer is one of those people.

I was never sure of his title at DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service. In a semi-successful attempt to hide the ever-dwindling number of administrators, biologists and technicians, Bob's duties and title were always shifting and I almost always guessed wrong before settling on: deputy, assistant, associate director of getting things done right.

Because that's what he did.

Now he doesn't have any title. After nearly four decades of public service, he decided to take the O'Malley administration's get-out-of-jail-free retirement offer. As the police blotter might say, Bob escaped into a nearby wooded area (also known as Mount Airy).

Unless you attend public hearings or stakeholder gatherings or the Wildlife Advisory Commission meetings, he's an unknown quantity. But truth is, the dude was aces when it came to crunching numbers, laying out and solving a problem, leading a discussion or chasing wild geese to swab their butts (more about that later).

With close-cropped white hair, immaculate attire and ramrod posture, Bob has the no-nonsense look of the maitre 'd at the swankiest restaurant in town.

Looks, thank goodness, are deceiving.

In his desk he kept candy bars to throw at colleague Patricia Allen on particularly stressful days.

He treated the staff — and some lucky outsiders — to his homemade stuffed mushrooms, cream of crab soup and wild game. Turns out Bob may look like a front-of-the-house dining room guy, but he's strictly a back-of-the-house kitchen guy.

"He's calm, cool and collected," said Allen. "He's dabbled in just about every aspect of the department. He's valuable and irreplaceable."

One of Bob's legacies, said Wilson Freeland, a Calvert County official and chairman of the state's Wildlife Advisory Commission, is the awards program that annually honors one DNR employee, once conservationist and one farmer.

"It shows you how thoughtful he was," said Freeland. "He wasn't showy. He didn't want publicity for himself. He just worked quietly, to the best of his ability, in a job he was passionate about."

DNR Secretary John Griffin called Beyer "an incredible asset."

"During his 36-year tenure at the agency, he became one of the fathers of modern wildlife management in Maryland," said Griffin. "He not only weathered some of the great challenges over the past several decades, but made us better for his leadership during those struggles, including the Canada goose hunting moratorium, shifting deer management to antlerless deer, West Nile Virus and chronic wasting disease."

Paul Peditto, the director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service, said Beyer brought his A-game every day, in every task he was assigned.

"He made a difference in the world he worked in," Peditto said. "To be that good and perform at that level with enthusiasm and dedication for three-and-a-half decades, that's Babe Ruthian in natural resources."

Armed with that much institutional knowledge and a keen sense of direction of where the bodies are buried, Bob can tell a mean story or three. Not that I can repeat any of them here.

So I'll have to tell one on him that involves geese, fecal samples, a makeshift animal pen and gigantic Q-Tips.

This was back in the days when Avian Influenza — Asian H5N1 — was the bug from hell that was going to kill us all. DNR had to test the goose population and the best time to do it was in summer, when the birds molt and can't fly.

So there I was on a goose roundup in a Southern Maryland gravel pit on a hot July day with a team of biologists and 150 flightless, deeply unhappy birds. The birds ran this way and that to escape a makeshift pen and an encounter with the cotton swab, while we ran that way and this, sweat pouring down our faces.

"The trick is to hiss and make yourself look taller," the 6-foot-tall Bob counseled the 5-foot-nothing me, pausing a beat. "In your case, you'll have to fake it."

I took a poop-induced header into the grass, where I magically found more organic matter. While leaning in to take notes on the, umm, procedure being performed by biologist Larry Hindman, I managed to get hit with some more fertilizer flicked from agitated tail feathers.

By the end of the day, I wasn't looking too good. I probably didn't smell too good, either.

Driving north, my cell phone rang. It was Bob, inviting me out for a beer — his treat.

After pulling over to take a bath in KFC wet wipes stashed in the glove box, I arrived and Bob had a cold one — and a toast — waiting.

"You wear it well," he said.

A compliment from a consummate professional who wore his whole career impeccably.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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