Egbert Wheeler PFEIFFER

Male 1915 - 2004


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  • Name  Egbert Wheeler PFEIFFER 
    Born  23 May 1915  New York , New York USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  24 Apr 2004  Missoula, Montana, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID  I01460  BRUCE FAMILY
    Last Modified  18 Oct 2012 

    Family  Jean SUTHERLAND 
    Children 
     1. Anne Sutherland PFEIFFER
     2. Eric Sutherland PFEIFFER
     3. James Timothy PFEIFFER
    Family ID  F00601  Group Sheet

  • Genealogical Notes 

    • Egbert Wheeler Pfeiffer

      MISSOULA - Egbert Wheeler Pfeiffer died peacefully at home in Missoula on April 24, 2004, from natural causes.

      He was born on May 23, 1915, in New York City to Eleanor Wheeler and Timothy Pfeiffer. His early education was at Horace Mann grammar school, Philips Academy at Andover and Cornell University where he played football and pursued his passion for falconry. Summers were spent at Portville, N.Y., where he developed a lifelong love of the outdoors.

      While working for the Aluminum Company of Canada in Montreal, he joined the Victoria Rifles of Canada in 1940. When the United States entered World War II he joined the U.S. Marine Corps where he rose to the rank of captain until discharged in 1945.

      After the war he satisfied a desire to move west and enrolled at the University of British Columbia, where he obtained an M.A. degree in wildlife biology and met his future wife, Jean Sutherland. They married in 1949 and moved to Berkeley, Calif., where he worked to complete his Ph.D. in zoology. They subsequently had three children.

      During this period, Bert was politically active in opposing McCarthyism, supporting the civil rights movement and resisting the California "Loyalty" Oath.

      His first teaching position was a temporary appointment at Caldwell, Idaho. In 1955, he taught at Utah State University and along with Professor Norman Bauer he worked to expose the dangers of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada. After a professional visit to the Dugway proving grounds he became alarmed by the preparation for biological warfare and published on the subject. His concern was verified when in 1968 there was an accidental kill of 8,000 sheep due to U.S. Army biological warfare tests.

      In 1957, as professor of anatomy at the Medical School of the University of North Dakota, he learned of the relatively high levels of radioactivity (especially strontium 90) in local milk supplies that showed up in the teeth and bones of children. Because of weather patterns, nuclear contamination from Nevada bomb testing fell on forage in North Dakota. His publications on the subject resulted in complaints from the North Dakota Public Health director at the time and his job was threatened. Thirty-five years later, the current public health director asked him for all the information on his earlier work to aid in public health assessments.

      In 1959, he joined the faculty of the Department of Zoology at the University of Montana. As a transplanted Easterner with a passion for wilderness, he found Missoula to be an ideal setting to raise children and to hunt, hike and, perhaps most importantly, fish. One of his first projects here was to travel around the state under the auspices of the Montana Farmer's Union to explain the dangers of nuclear atmospheric testing.

      He became a board member of the Scientists Institute for Public Information (SIPI, chaired by Margaret Mead) and helped establish the Western Montana Scientists Committee for Public Information that sought to end atmospheric testing. In 1963, the nuclear test-ban treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union.

      In the late 1960s and 1970s, Bert became deeply involved in the movement against the war in Vietnam. As a biologist he was especially concerned about the effects of the American military's widespread spraying of herbicides for defoliation, including Agent Orange, on the ecology and people of Vietnam. Agent Orange contains dioxin, an extremely toxic chemical agent harmful to animal and human life. He was instrumental in persuading the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to conduct an independent study of the effects of chemical spraying on Vietnam.

      Bert made numerous trips to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the conflict to document the effects of chemical and biological warfare and lectured around the United States about his work. In 1973, his film entitled, "Ecoside: A Strategy of War," won the Inuvik Prize at the International Film Festival on the Human Environment in Montreal. In 1968 he was commended by the AAAS for having urged the organization to undertake its studies of defoliation in Vietnam. He was also profiled in the NBC news program "First Tuesday" for his work on Vietnam and described as an "obscure professor from an obscure university."

      In 1972, President Nixon ended the use of herbicides in the war, but 30 years later the devastating effects of chemical warfare continue to afflict the health of the Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers and have left large areas of Vietnam uninhabitable.

      In 1985, he was invited by Nicaraguan ecologists to learn about the Nicaraguan government's efforts to address the environmental devastation of earlier regimes. His other research resulted in numerous publications in scientific journals, on mammalian kidney function, the physiology of hibernation, and avian reproduction. After retiring from the Zoology Department he continued teaching very happily in the Environmental Studies Program for several years until 1991. In 1996, he received the Robert J. Panzer award from the University of Montana for giving the university a more open and humane environment.

      Bert was a stickler for grammar, and a fan of the music of Ray Price and more recently of Roy Orbison. A talented artist, he produced charming and poetic wildlife paintings, especially in his early years. He always loved the humor of Bob Hope, and was not known to suppress a quip of his own should one occur to him. He lived in perpetual chagrin at his given name, Egbert.

      He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Eleanor Lawrence and brother Timothy Pfeiffer.

      He is survived by his wife Jean at the family home in Missoula; three children, Anne and Eric of Missoula, and James and his wife Rachel of Cleveland; two grandchildren Amanda James and Solea Pfeiffer; one great-grandchild, Jaden Abbey of Missoula; sister Katherine Gerkin of Ithaca, N.Y.; sister-in-law Sophia Pfeiffer of Brunswick, Maine; three nephews and two nieces.

      Cremation has taken place and a celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

      The family asks that a fitting memorial would be to continue working for peace and justice in a world of turmoil.


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