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Three factual errors

By Staff | Apr 1, 2009

To the editor,

I thoroughly enjoyed the WGCU-TV production, “Sanctuary Islands: The Sanibel Legacy” that aired recently, and I was pleased that I was invited to participate. The historical information was presented in an accurate context, and the personal interviews were well woven into the theme.

I heard three factual errors, and one of them was mine. When I said, “I met ‘Ding’ Darling twice in 1960,” that was incorrect. I actually met him earlier and spent some time with him on two days, Dec. 3 and 5, 1959.

Secondly, “Ding” Darling did not hire W.D. “Tommy” Wood, who became the first refuge manager of what then was the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The first permanent, but transient, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employee responsible for the newly created NWR was William “Bill” Lehman, who lived north of Sanibel Island in Mango, Fla. and periodically patrolled Sanibel and the nearby Florida Gulf Islands Refuges (Caloosahatchee, Mantanzas Pass, Matlacha Pass, Pine Island and Island Bay NWRs).

The late Sanibel resident Jake Stokes also once served the FWS locally as a temporary patrolman before Wood’s 22-year tenure began. Mr. Darling’s letters disclose that he was not fond of Lehman and suggested to the FWS that he be replaced. Tommy Wood was already employed by the FWS as a Laborer/Patrolman at Key West and Great White Heron NWRs.

Gerald Baker, the refuge manager who supervised all the NWRs in South Florida, including the Everglades NWR (this later became Everglades National Park), offered Tommy the job on Sanibel and he accepted. Tommy transferred to Sanibel in 1949 and was later promoted to Refuge Manager/Pilot, the position he held when I joined the refuge staff, in 1958.

Tommy Wood was skilled in many things, and among his personal qualities he was a cordial “diplomat.” After their first meeting, he quickly picked up on “Ding” Darling’s views and – where practical – Tommy was prudent and implemented some of Mr. Darling’s ideas in the early management strategies for the refuge. The two men quickly became very good friends and I saw that friendship in action a couple of times, and I was privy to Tommy’s loss when his friend died in 1962.

Thirdly, Willis Combs was at one time a friend of mine and he did indeed confront a bulldozer operator as the machine approached to punch a road through the Combs property at the western end of West Gulf Drive. The Combs’ had named their Gulf-front property Woodmere Preserve and they vowed it would never be despoiled. According to what Willis told me, he had an unloaded shot gun in his hands at the time, not a primitive crossbow.

Probably Willis Combs’ greatest “conservation” achievement was that he spearheaded the island’s fight against construction of Sanibel Causeway I.

Charles LeBuff

Fort Myers