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A Lifetime of Perseverance

Phyllis Puckett and Shell – 1994

Photo by Marc Puckett

           I am dedicating this BLOG to my mom, Phyllis Ann Phelps Puckett, September 18th, 1934, to July 27th, 2023. Though how her life relates to quail conservation may not be apparent without closer inspection. Back in 1962 things were far different than today in terms of how babies entered this world. The deliveries tended to be private affairs between the doctor a nurse and the mom. In those days the men were often not even in the hospital, and someone would call the new dad…if they could get him on the land line phones of the day and let him know his new son or daughter was here and mom and child were doing well. It was OK for him to visit.

            On the day of my arrival, my dad had gone quail hunting which for him was without a dog, walking the land along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Pulaski Virginia. Small game was plentiful and in truth, he along with his friends hunted for what they kicked up. Rabbits, quail, squirrels, doves…all fair game and soon on the dinner table. That particular day dad had killed four or five quail…which were a delightful change from the daily diet. Also different in those days were all the hospital rules about not bringing in food. Thus, for my mom’s post-partum meal, dad took her a plate of pan-fried quail and fixings. Can you imagine now taking a plate of wild game into a hospital room (not to mention going hunting the day your child is being born)?

            So, I guess you could say my life started out with the aroma of fried quail drifting into my freshly minted nose. But my mom’s ties to quail go far deeper than a meal made of them. Anyone in this quail business knows that there are no short-term fixes. And throughout my career I have stated that this game is a long-term, gut-wrenching gut check of perseverance. I have seen many flashes in the pan come and go from this conservation challenge. I have seen lots of big billowing clouds of dust kicked up, only to find when they settle, we’d been going in circles the whole time. But I have also seen those in it for the long haul. I’ve seen the needle move in the right direction. Things like major leaps in conservation programs, big steps and footprints left by quail-oriented NGOs, and a national consolidated movement addressing their decline.

            My mom had an internal strength I have seen matched by few. She endured a tough childhood in the coal fields of West Virginia during the Depression and then World War Two. She ran errands for people in town for a few coins, buying food when they accumulated enough to afford something. She loved to tell me a story about a dog they had…and how they fed him I don’t know. But one day he came home with a package of hot dogs he had snatched from a storefront. Miracle of miracles, he had not eaten them, having only bitten the one his mouth was on to carry them…and they gave him that one and cooked and ate the rest. Those were the times; you did what you had to do, and you persevered.

            Mom went on to suffer from Multiple Sclerosis most of her adult life. She survived cancer and dozens of radiation and chemotherapy treatments in her 70s. She had falls and surgeries and endured them all without complaining. She had a quiet dignity and inner strength to persevere. Her world became very small. Her vision was failing. Her mind was failing. And in the end, she simply was ready to go home. At eighty-eight years old, she just gave out. On one of my last days with her, she looked up suddenly and asked, “Is it nice outside?” And it was…the weather had cooled, and I told her so and she said “Well, that’s good.” Positive to the end.

            Whether it’s quail conservation, or whatever it is you believe in, life itself really boils down to perseverance and a positive attitude. During times when I forgot that for a while, visiting her always brought me back to it. And to end on a humorous note, shortly after talking about how nice it was outside, she looked up again and said to me “You look like Santa Claus.” Looking in the mirror at my white hair and spectacles and three days of beard…I couldn’t argue with her. Rest in peace Momma.

Marc Puckett

Photo by Meghan Marchetti, VDWR

Marc Puckett is a Small Game Project Leader with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR).

Marc has worked with VDWR for 25+ years. He currently serves as the small game project co-leader. He was involved in several quail studies, including for his master’s degree at NCSU. He served his country for four years in the US Army’s Airborne Infantry. Marc resides with his family on a farm in central Virginia.