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Friday, June 13, 2014

In Memoriam

A champion of New York City conservation and environmental issues passed away this week. Jean Bourque, a driving force in protecting important habitats around the city died on Monday after a relatively short illness. She will be missed by many.

I met Jean and her husband Ron some time in the early 1990s on one of my first birding trips to Floyd Bennett Field. This inseparable dynamic duo was nearly always referred to as a single unit - "Ron and Jean". The pair had worked tirelessly to protect the grasslands at Floyd, as well as, the nearby Four Sparrow Marsh. I subsequently became part of their annual Christmas Bird Count team at Floyd Bennett, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. Below are just a few email messages I received after sending out word of Jean's passing.

From Dave Burg of WildMetro:

From: David
Subject: Re: Sad News
Date: June 10, 2014

When I first moved to New York City in 1985 I thought there would be no outlet for my interest in native grasslands. At a visit to Jamaica Bay Refuge HQ I picked up a copy of the NYC Audubon Newsletter. Cover story was about the Bourques and Floyd Bennett Field. I became involved and eventually Ron and I served on the board together, the GRAMP committee, and we are still on the conservation committee.

Jean was the sort of naturalist who went way beyond almost any other amateur I have met. Her interest in the grasslands led to an interest and expertise in grasses. To identify them she even obtained a dissecting microscope! I can't think of any other person who has done that.

Jean and Ron both were beacons of intelligence, passion for nature, and devotion to each other. If Ron needs our support now I hope we can be of some comfort to him.

Thinking fond memories of Jean and with sympathy to Ron,

David Burg

From the President of the New York City Audubon Society, Harry Maas:

Subject: Jean Bourque
From: Harry Maas
Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2014

On behalf of NYC Audubon, I sadly share with all of you the news that Jean Bourque, a long-time tireless and dedicated defender of wildlife and its habitat in New York City, has passed away. She was a leading advocate for conservation in the city and was particularly instrumental in the protection of the grasslands at Floyd Bennett Field, in forming the native plant garden at Marine Park/Gerritsen Creek and many other endeavors. Together with her husband Ron, with whom she constituted a formidable team, she is responsible for many of the efforts over the years designed to protect birds and other wildlife in New York City, particularly in Brooklyn.

A long-time supporter of NYC Audubon and our programs, we thank her and are so very appreciative for all the contributions she has made to our organization and, more importantly, to the natural history and the outdoors in New York City.

A person with her commitment, her dynamic nature and her unflagging willingness to go the extra mile on behalf of the birds and other wildlife of this city cannot be replaced. She will be missed.

Harry Maas
President, NYC Audubon

Finally, this touching note from naturalist and author Rick Cech:

From: Rick
Subject: RE: Sad News
Date: June 10, 2014

During the "low days" of Brooklyn birding (when the Brooklyn Bird Club went dormant for a time), shortly before I arrived as a newcomer in Cobble Hill [...], there were only a few guiding beacons illuminating the natural history landscape of the borough. There was the Yrizarrys, who held the Christmas Count compilation at their home off Flatbush Avenue, and there was the Bourques, an ubiquitous couple who embodied a remarkable, tireless devotion to Brooklyn natural history. Their resolve reminds me, still today, of Pete Seeger's environmental outreach on the Hudson River, with its calm, self-assured sense of purpose. But more than Seeger even, Ron and Jean brought a wealth of carefully curated natural history knowledge and insight to their activities. How many of us first saw Floyd Bennett Field through Ron and Jean's eyes? And who can forget, at count dinners, when Eastern Meadowlark was called, how often the Bourques cried out "Floyd Bennett!"? (Since 1981, Floyd Bennet has had a remarkable 20 count saves for that species.)

I speak of Ron and Jean as a unity because for most of the time I knew them I almost never saw them apart. They were a couple that reinforced each other in a fundamental and defining way.

I think it is fair to say that the feelings of the entire New York nature community is reaching out to Ron tonight. And that many of us will spend time reflecting in the days ahead of the times we spent together with he and Jean.

This a sad day for natural history in New York, but I'm happy to have had their acquaintance together for so many warm years.

With our warmest feelings,

Rick Cech and Emily Peyton

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