Monday, July 07, 2008

You Can Be a Winner if You Try

The plaque for the 2008 Robert Ridgway Award from the American Birding Association.

The two best fortune cookie fortunes I've ever gotten are:

You can be a winner if you try.
Keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life.

I was reminded of both of these snippets of Zen on the night of Thursday, June 26, 2008, when I received an award from The American Birding Association at its convention in Utah. It was the Robert Ridgway Award, named for the turn-of-the-century ornithologist who is perhaps most famous for creating a uniform naming code for bird colors, and for being the curator of birds at The Smithsonian Institution.

Previous winners of The Robert Ridgway Award include Harold Mayfield, Susan Smith, Steve N.G. Howell, Donald Kroodsma, and Bill Clark. It's hard to imagine my name being added to such an illustrious list. I suppose having written some bird books (with lots of help) and having edited a widely distributed bird magazine for 20 years might qualify me for this award, but to me, it seems like I'm still some young kid trying to make it in this biz. Who was it who said "Once they start giving you Lifetime Achievement Awards, your life is basically over."?

I knew in advance that I was receiving this award, but this did nothing to calm my nerves. I am rarely nervous in front of a crowd but on this night, for some reason, I was. Sitting there listening to ABA board member Erika Wilson read her introduction about me to the several hundred people in the banquet room, I did not know what to do.

Erika finished and called my name and I somehow managed to stand up and walk onto the stage. I'd prepared some remarks and even had a sight gag all ready. It took a moment to get a grip. I took a deep breath and was reminded of the first time, in 5th grade, when I stepped onto a basketball court as part of a team. My mouth went dry, my eyes began to swim, my stomach did a loop around my lungs. I felt like I was suspended in some sort of clear, oozy medium. Weird!
At the podium, reading my remarks. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

I collected my remaining wits and read my remarks, endeavoring to be brief yet comprehensive in mentioning those whom I needed to thank. Even my voice sounded odd, partly from the adrenaline and partly from what we call Thompson's Disease: a tendency to choke up at especially moving moments in life. This was one of them. I could not make it past my paragraph thanking my parents. I owe them too much and this award, after all, was theirs, too.

I sputtered to a close. Waved a big thank you to the audience and stepped off the podium. I was handed a shiny, impressively produced plaque and because this award was sponsored by Zeiss, a sweet new pair of 8 x 42 Zeiss Victory binoculars. We took some handshake photographs. I do not remember them.

From left: Stephen Ingraham of Zeiss Optics, BOTB, Erika Wilson, and Fr. Tom Pincelli Chairman of the ABA board. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

Post-ceremony well wishers Steve Carbol, Alvaro Jaramillo, and Jeff Bouton. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

Leica's Jeff Bouton asks me if I'm REALLY gonna use those Zeiss binocs. You betcha! Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

Later that night a handful of friends gathered for an impromptu party. This degenerated into a raucous singalong in our hotel room with Jeff Gordon, Steve Carbol and I sharing guitar duties and a caveman chorus singing behind us, reading lyrics snagged on a laptop connected to the Internet.
The Caveman Chorus: Steve Howell, George Armistead, Chris Wood, and Gavin Bieber. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

At 2 am we waved the white flag. We were surprised that the hotel's night manager (or the po-po's) had not shown up. It wasn't until days later, as she was leaving the adjoining room, that Kathy Payne, the wife of Richard Payne, the ABA's president, remarked at how much she'd enjoyed the music coming through the wall—especially the music we played before midnight!

I suspect this will make them more careful in selecting future award winners...

All kidding aside, I was flattered to my core by this award. Thanks to all who helped make it possible, and thanks for letting me share it with you.


At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me be the first to congratulate you. What good news.

I was recently chatting with a photog friend in the biz and she said, and I do not lie, "Oh, that Bill Thompson, I imagine anything he touches turns to gold"

(ok you can stop blushing now)

Your reputation precedes you. Way to go.

At 12:47 AM, Anonymous BWJones said...

Congratulations Bill.

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Trixie said...

Congratulations! I imagine the ABA was perhaps thinking of all the sheparding and stewardship you have done for the entire birding community. Excellent work.

At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Jayne said...

Congratulations Bill! Bravo!!

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who was it who said "Once they start giving you Lifetime Achievement Awards, your life is basically over."?"

I didn't see anything on the plaque saying "lifetime achievement." It said "distinguished service." That means you're expected to keep serving. For a long time.

Congratulations on the award.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Rondeau Ric said...

Congratulations Bill.
Just wish we could have been there to see you reieve the award.


At 9:29 AM, Anonymous NCmountainwoman said...

Congratulations, many times over.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't imagine you, being at a loss for words. Mr.Charmer!!!
Congrats you deserve the best!

At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

Congratulations, Bill. You ARE a winner. I love what you do.

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Man, that afterparty sounds like a blast. Congrats, Bill - you're a pillar of the community!

At 9:34 PM, Anonymous KatDoc said...

Late in responding, but let me add my congrats to you, Bill, for this award. It is well-deserved, and I'm happy your hard work and dedication has been recognized.

Now, when do the Cavemen release their first CD?


At 11:18 PM, Anonymous nina said...


BTW, I believe I have Thompson's Disease, too.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous RuthieJ said...

Congratulations to you Mr. Thompson! I had tears in my eyes reading your story. What a wonderful recognition for all you (and your family) have done for birding over the years.

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Patrick Belardo said...

Bill, congratulations indeed. Well deserved. I enjoyed this post immensely.


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