Benjamin S. Pate Jr.

Sep 03, 2019
Benjamin Pate Jr.

Columbus, Ga. — Naturalist, traveler, birder, reader, teacher Benjamin Sanford "Sam" Pate died Aug. 31, 2019, at Columbus Hospice House with his wife of 41 years, Nan, and his friends by his side. A celebration of his life will be held Sept. 5 at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary at the First Baptist Church, 212 12th St., Columbus, Ga.

Sam was a man of faith, scholarship and courage who had an appreciation of the natural world, and who believed in the eternal goodness of man. These traits were nurtured in his boyhood in Ashford, Ala., where he explored the woods, creeks, ancient Indian sites and critters of southeast Alabama. That constant curiosity continued for the rest of his life. His hero was his grandfather, Dr. Walter Eugene Pate Sr., who lived next door to him. Dr. Pate died when Sam was 8, but his influence was lifelong.

Sam graduated from Ashford High School, where he played three varsity sports, was president of the student body and played clarinet in the band. He graduated from Auburn University, where he majored in pre-medicine and attended medical school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham for one year. He was selected for academic recognition at both universities. Deciding he wanted to do other things, he traveled to the American West and Alaska. Sam settled in Columbus, Ga., where he taught school for the next 51 years – the same number of years his grandfather practiced medicine. He spent the last 35 of those years at Brookstone School, where he held the Chair of Environmental Science.

Sam “talked the talk and walked the walk”. He shared his knowledge by giving hundreds of nature programs to groups from Alaska to the Caribbean. He was a presenter at the National Science Teacher Convention in Boston, where he developed a friendship with fellow presenter Alan Shepard, a treat for one whose interest in space was lifelong. Programs by both men were recommended in “Seven Programs to Watch.” Sam was selected by NASA in 1962 to participate in a two-week study of the Mercury and Gemini projects at Cape Canaveral. He later went to the Cape to watch the Apollo liftoff taking our astronauts to the moon.

Believing that one should reach out beyond their geographic boundaries, he helped bring to Columbus nationally known wildlife painters and, among many writers, Pulitzer Prize- winning author David McCullough. He arranged programs including an adult Florida panther, raptors and even an Andean condor.

In the last weeks before his retirement from Brookstone School, Sam prepared to lead his last of more than 100 field trips to Wakulla Springs, Fla., and St. Mark’s NWR. He was pleased so many adults who had been his students long ago asked to come with him on this final trip. Long an advocate of taking field notes and dating them in one's field guides, he was pleased to see so many of the adult former students with their original field guides filled with notations of decades of their sightings.

In the 1970s, when the local Audubon Society had few members and met to decide whether to disband, Sam and a few others felt it was an important group and worked to continue it. He agreed to be the president for the next two terms. Sam created, wrote and edited the nature newsletter, The Observer, and regularly presented programs that brought in hundreds. For decades he led the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Columbus, Ga., and Eufaula, Ala., NWR.

Nan and Sam enjoyed more than 35 summers in Midcoast Maine. There they found much happiness in a place they both adored. They have missed their Maine lifetime friends and house by the sea every day they have been away. Over the decades in Maine, Sam first walked the marshes at Weskeag, then as illness hit, he walked with a walking stick, then a walker, then a wheelchair, then watched the birds at Weskeag Marsh with a scope from the car.

Sam was predeceased by his parents, Benjamin Sanford Pate Sr. and Lucy W. Baughman Pate, and his sister, Mary Nell Pate Budnaitis. He is survived by his wife, Nan; his loyal rescue lab Bo; his friends and his cousins Edward C. Burdeshaw (Suzanne) of Columbus, Ga., John William Baughman III (Connie) of Lawrenceville, Ga., Joe Pate (Leslie) of Raleigh, N.C., and Oakley Guy (Sharon) of Cleveland, Tenn.; and by all of his former students who can still identify a barred owl’s call, identify a bird by its genus and species, and who teach their kids to do their part to preserve the planet.

Sam is already missed.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends consider remembering him by supporting Columbus Hospice, 7020 Moon Road, Columbus, GA 31909, the Koart Academy of Music of First Baptist Church, P.O. Box 828, Columbus, GA 31902, Brookstone School, 440 Bradley Park Dr., Columbus, GA 31904, and Georges River Land Trust, 8 North Main St., Rockland, ME 04841 designated for Weskeag Marsh – Bob O Link Trail.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.