Tributes to Mara McDonald
Dear Evolution Community,
It is with great sadness that I pass on the news that Mara McDonald, long-time administrator of the Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution, died this weekend at her home.
For those of you that did not know her, Mara worked in the Laboratory of Genetics office, but she was not your typical office worker. She had earned a PhD in Zoology (from the U. Florida) and was passionate about all aspects of organismal biology, but especially birds, conservation biology, natural history, and evolutionary medicine. She was an avid birder and bird-bander at the Biocore Prairie, always willing to train an interested student or member of the public. She was also an eager participant in many seminars and discussion groups, especially the Evolution Seminar Series and Zoology/Evolution Reading Group, and often stepped forward to suggest speakers or themes.
As first director of the Crow Institute, I would like to note that were it not for Mara’s enthusiastic support of the idea and her willingness (nay eagerness!) to act as our administrator, the institute would likely never have been born. She was always an advocate for Evolutionary Biology and happy to help in any way, including by being a key organizer of many successful Darwin Day outreach symposia. We owe her a debt of thanks.
Personally, know I will miss her commitment to science and learning and her deep and genuine kindness to everybody around her.
–David Baum, Chair and Professor, Department of Botany
We are so very sad to know that Mara has died. She was such a wonderful colleague and an inspiration to so many. Although no one can ever replace Mara, I dearly hope that the work she began at the Biocore Prairie Bird Observatory will continue into the future. It such a wonderful example of the synergies that result when research, education and outreach come together—with a committed, dedicated and passionate individual in Mara leading the way.
–Janet Batzli, Associate Director, Biocore
I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. McDonald. While I never met Mara, I have frequently communicated with her during my tenure as BBL Chief and always found her to be very engaged in her banding activities and in the operation of the BBL. She will definitely be missed by myself and the BBL staff.
– Bruce Peterjohn
Chief, BBL USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
"Mara’s death is a great loss to all her friends, to the UW-Madison and to birders around the US and Canada.
Mara first ’took root’ at the UW in the Department of Plant Pathology where she ably managed the laboratory sections of the newly launched course, Plants Parasites and People and we became friends.
Her position as Administrator of the Crow Institute was perfect for her, for as an evolutionary biologist at the UW Madison she was a quintessential 'boundary crosser’ bringing together many who otherwise would not come to know each other.
I will miss her probing arguments, wry sense of humor with twinkling eyes and open friendship..
"Hail to thee blithe spirit!’”
– Paul Williams, Emeritus Prof. of Plant Pathology
I’m writing this e-mail in great sadness today. I received a call this afternoon that Dr. Mara McDonald passed away in her home last night....... I know she wasn’t feeling well over the past few weeks, so I took over banding duties at the Biocore Prairie Research Station (Madison, WI – Lakeshore Nature Preserve) as one of her sub-permitees.
– Jacqueline Edmunds, Wildlife Rehabilitation Training Coordinator
Andrew (Drew) Hasley (Genetics Graduate student)
"Students will miss her as well. She's helped out a lot of us over the years. Whether as part of Darwin Day planning, bird banding, grant/fellowship prep, or just her checking up on you in passing, pretty much every grad student in the genetics or evolution community talked to Mara at some point.
I personally was always amazed by her passion for science. Mara took the term, life-long learner, to a whole new level. You saw the same passion in practice with bird banding. That kind of attention to scientific rigor combined with incredible care for and understanding of the birds themselves is something I'm glad I had the chance to observe.
'm glad I got to know her.”
–Andrew (Drew) Hasley, Genetics Graduate student
"With heavy heart and a tear forming your email opened, I, too, shall miss her. Feeling quite the "outsider", she welcomed me when I started attending ESS, a kindness I never forget. Over the years, many conversations, papers exchanged, a friendship formed, I had planned this Summer to stop by and see her in her new position in Zoology.
On my daily walk, watched a pair of American Goldfinch taking thistle down, as it is their nest building time, seemed a fitting tribute.“
–Dr. William (Bill) Saucier, MD and honorary fellow in Botany
Mara McDonald, a Master Bird Bander, headed the bird banding project from 2001 to 2016 on the Biocore prairie, on less than two acres, where volunteers take to the field once a week from March to November. The goal is to monitor the bird communities as the prairie is being restored.
"We're trying to give people an idea of the diversity of things they don't normally think about," said Mara," If you go to a demonstration, you're going to be more sensitized to environmental issues, especially if the data show our environment is rapidly degrading."
UW oral history interviews with
Mara McDonald, three tapes 2004, and the transcript
Childhood; Education in psychology and zoology at University of California, Los Angeles; PhD in zoology at University of Florida, Gainesville; Experiences as a woman in science; Research; Fieldwork in Haiti studying birds; Appointment to UW; Postdoctoral positions; Research, teaching and administrative positions at UW; Bird-banding project with the Biology Core Program; Interest in academic staff issues; Reflections on challenges faced during career.
Afterwards – Thomas Hardy, 1917
Transposed for Mara
– by her longtime assistant and friend at the Biocore Pat Becker
When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
“She was a woman who used to notice such things”?
If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
“To her this must have been a familiar sight.”
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, “She strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But she could do little for them, and now she is gone.”
If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
“She was one who had an eye for such mysteries”?
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
“She hears it not now, but used to notice such things”?