Conservation educator Doug Travis, the longest serving employee in Kentucky state government, died at his Paducah home Thursday, June 14. He was 88.
Travis began his career with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as a conservation officer in 1947. The following year, he transferred to a conservation educator position with the department, where over the course of his 59-year career he taught more than 300,000 kids the basics of hunting, fishing, swimming and marksmanship at schools and conservation camp in western Kentucky.
"Kentuckians across the Commonwealth are mourning the loss of one of our greatest citizens, Doug Travis," said Gov. Ernie Fletcher. "Mr. Travis touched the lives of thousands of Kentuckians during his nearly 60 years with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, teaching them how to use our resources wisely and about the importance of conservation. He devoted his life to serving Kentucky, and in doing so made our Commonwealth a better place in so many ways. Glenna and I extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Travis' family and friends during this difficult time."
A native of Marion, Ky., Travis fought 147 bouts as a Golden Gloves boxer, served as a small arms instructor for the U.S. Army during World War II, became the department's first firearms instructor in 1952, and served as director of Camp John W. Currie from 1975-2000. Travis is credited for helping start Kentucky's first modern bow season for deer, and was instrumental in the formation of the department's Greenwing Adventure program for youth waterfowl hunters.
Jay Webb, assistant director of the department's Information and Education Division, said Travis loved the outdoors so much that he wanted to share it with others, even as his health declined in later years. "Doug looked forward to putting on his uniform every morning and going out to help people," said Webb. "He was Fish and Wildlife. Doug defined his job and his job defined him. They were one and the same. He lived his dream."
Harold Knight, who built a nationally known game call company with partner David Hale, said Travis was a major influence in his career. Knight was 11 years old when he first met Travis at Camp Currie. It started a friendship that lasted a lifetime.
"I always said that if you didn't like Doug Travis, you didn't like your own mama. He was that good with people," Knight said. "A lot of people might have retired when they got in their sixties, but Doug did it up into his eighties. It's remarkable that he had that drive and wanted to help kids to the very end."
Don McCormick, a former Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, said Travis once considered retirement, but couldn't bear the thought of going through with it.
"Doug submitted his letter of resignation back in 1988 during a special state government retirement window," McCormick said. "I was sitting at my desk one day and Doug came in to see me. We chit-chatted a few minutes and I finally asked him what was up. He said, 'Commissioner, this job is my life. This is my family.'
"His chin started quivering a bit and he wanted to know if he could get his letter back," McCormick continued. "He said, 'I don't want to do anything else and I don't want to leave.' "
Charles Martin, chairman of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, said he was in the fifth grade when Travis came to his school to talk about conservation. Travis made an impression. "He had a special relationship with children that cannot be replicated," Martin said. "He would motivate kids like nothing I've ever seen. I don't think this state will ever have a conservation education leader like him again."
Mike Boatwright, who served 24 years as the western district representative on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, said Travis had a remarkable career.
"There never has been or will be another employee more dedicated to Fish and Wildlife than Doug Travis," Boatwright said. "Fish and Wildlife was his life. He was always there to give advice to young employees. He kept them heading in the right direction.
"As much as he loved Department of Fish and Wildlife," Boatwright continued, "he loved the kids more. He knew the kids were the future of Fish and Wildlife. He taught them the importance of conservation and hunting and fishing."
"He taught so many kids," echoed Dick Hudson, former Camp Currie superintendent. "He could flip a penny into the air and take a .22 rifle and shoot a hole right through the center of it. He was really good to work with. He loved those kids. And he was my good friend."
"When I came to work for the department in 1949, Doug was already here," said former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Arnold Mitchell. "Doug did an excellent job with those kids. He looked after them just like they were his own. And he was and excellent employee. When he started a job, you knew the job would get done. You could depend on him."
Travis' legacy will live on. Last December, a 4,118-acre wildlife management area in western Kentucky was named in his honor.
"Doug Travis defined fish and wildlife in Kentucky," said Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Dr. Jon Gassett. "For six decades, he was a shining example for generations of sportsmen and sportswomen throughout our Commonwealth. His honesty, integrity, and passion for conservation education will leave a mark on the Department of Fish and Wildlife that will influence and outlast the efforts of those following in his footsteps. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Doug, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife family will miss him dearly."
Friends say Travis won't be forgotten. "Doug loved the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was proud to wear that uniform," Knight said. "The department was lucky to have an ambassador like him. Who's going to take Doug Travis' place? I don't know - he was so important to so many young people."
Visitation is set for 4-8 p.m. Central time, Sunday, June 17, at Milner and Orr Funeral Home in Lone Oak. Services are 2 p.m. Monday Central time at Lone Oak United Methodist Church.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Doug Travis Scholarship Fund for underprivileged campers.
Survivors include his wife of 27 years, Patty Travis; a sister, Iris Ann Shiver, Gallitin, Tenn.; four daughters, Shannon Mills, Bowling Green, Ky., Julie Lowery, Brentwood, Tenn., Barbara Butler, Nolensville, Tenn., and Peggy Denham, Cleveland, Tenn.; a son, Leslie Adams, Paducah, Ky.; and eight grandchildren.