|Billy Stimpson, when he was 9, with a turkey he harvested slung over his shoulder at the Bullpen Hunting Club.|
Born into a hunting-camp culture where males of any age older than the one addressing them were reverently referred to as "Mister" followed by their first name, Billy Stimpson lived life as fully as anybody I have ever known.
Exactly when Billy made the transition from referring to others as Mister Whoever to being referred to as Mister Billy remains a mystery. Billy’s father Mist’ Fred was one of the original wildlife conservationists in Alabama, and a national leader in conservation circles. He was my mentor Charles Kelley’s mentor, so there was a natural connection of sorts in the way we all thought.
The connection was a deeply humbling one for me. To walk in the company of giants helps you to understand how relatively small you really are. I never put myself in their league.
Billy’s brother Mister Ben, who I also had the privilege of knowing, was also among the giants. Although Ben and Billy were different in many ways, they shared an uncommon degree of shrewdness. This keen-witted, clever sharpness in practical affairs permeated their thinking, whether in the corporate boardroom or the turkey woods or anywhere in between.
Ben was quieter and more deliberate; Billy was more spontaneous and could sometimes be boisterous. They both had steel-trap minds.
April is a fitting month to pay tribute to Billy, who passed away in January at the age of 94. He literally lived to hunt turkeys in the spring. Knowing what I know, I firmly believe that the promise of yet another spring turkey season helped keep Billy alive and kicking.
Once, while being interviewed for a magazine article, Billy said, "I work so I can afford to hunt and fish." As pointed out in a January memorial article, the reality was that, through hunting and fishing, he spent untold hours with his wife Margaret, children and grandchildren creating memories while teaching them about leadership, stewardship, conservation and responsibility.
Tough, but nurturing; old and wise, but ever youthful; Billy was both predictable and unpredictable. When it came to matters of principle, he was always consistently unwavering. A champion for private property rights, he fought hard to defend private landowners’ interests through active involvement at the state and national level.
Although privileged in many ways, including hunting opportunities, Billy never lost sight of the common man. He was introspective enough to recognize that most people did not share his good fortune, and that maintaining the broad base of hunters required looking beyond his own circumstances. He brought this mindset to a decade of service on the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board where he was a voice of reason and advocate for the masses of rank and file hunters.
Many people with a lifetime of accomplishments like Billy’s – distinguished military service, successful businesses, leadership in corporate circles, and a pile of awards and honors – begin to take themselves too seriously. Not Billy. No, sir.
The last time I had the opportunity to visit with Billy, he was the same as he was the first time I met him, some 30 years previously.
The place of that original introduction was Bullpen Hunting Club. Billy was obviously in charge of what was going on. This was the same place that Billy had his picture taken with a turkey gobbler slung over his back at the age of 9.
There was the spirit of a 9-year-old behind Billy’s eyes on every occasion I saw him. This playful part of his character was part of what kept him from taking himself too seriously.
In addition to his ever-present young-at-heart outlook, Billy had the remarkable ability to accurately sort out the way things used to be from the present state of affairs. Many people lose their ability to keep things in perspective as they age. Billy clearly knew that the relative abundance of turkeys when he was 9 was less than when he was 90. And he knew why.
The wildlife conservation success story that he witnessed in his almost-century-long existence was a marvel to him. He clearly saw the role hunters played in paying for management and protection of wildlife resources. He clearly saw the role private landholders played as stewards of the land and its creatures.
When Billy was well into his eighties, Sandy, one of his sons, called my office at the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and told me, "Daddy accidentally killed three gobblers with one shot and wants to turn himself in. What does he need to do?"
"He needs to go to the District Court at the county courthouse and put himself on the docket and pay the fine," I replied.
Billy followed my advice and went down and paid the fine.
The following day, another phone call came, with the inquiry, "Daddy wants to know if all three turkeys count toward his season limit?"
My affirmative response was no surprise.
Corky Pugh is theexecutive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.