I attended a Memorial Service recently at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus for a distinguished ex-professor. Tom Waters, lover of rivers, streams and fishing, a 33-year professor of fisheries passed away last month at age 86.
I first became acquainted with Tom during the 1970’s when the legislature was debating passing a wild and scenic rivers act. Tom was steadfast in his support, writing opinion pieces in the local papers and willing to come over and testify on the importance of protecting adjacent land areas along scenic riverways.
You may know Tom from his 1980 iconic book, “Streams and Rivers of Minnesota”, which quickly became the bible for state river descriptions. He followed that up with “Wildstream: A Natural History of the Free Flowing River”, that describes the science of river ecology in lay terms. He also wrote “The Superior North Shore: A Natural History of Lake Superior’s Northern Waters and Lands”, an important reference guide for unique natural and geologic sites along the shore.
Tom had a cabin on the Snake river where he greatly enjoyed fly-fishing. According to his colleagues, Tom always had a couple of fly-rods in the vehicle he drove. His students at the U of M greatly respected his scientific knowledge of stream ecology, and loved the story telling aspect of his teaching. When the Rivers Council of Minnesota got started, Tom became an avid supporter and adviser to the efforts of it’s board.
Many good stories by Tom’s friends and teaching colleagues were told at the Memorial Service. One that struck me was by a former graduate student who said without Tom’s patience, mentoring and support, he probably wouldn’t have made it through graduate school. Always humble and gracious, Tom was the consummate gentleman.
While his life will live on through his books, you realize when the end comes how important he was in his soft-spoken manner and how much he affected for the better others he impacted along the way. His last book, “The Rivers of Minnesota: Recreation and Conservation” is about all the adventures you can have on a river. Tom should now be silently thanked for his lifelong dedication to educating us on the preservation of the wild streams of Minnesota.