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Fish and Wildlife Service memorializes its late director, Sam Hamilton

By Juliet Eilperin

By The Post's environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin:

A bald eagle flew through the assembled crowd at the Interior Department's Sidney Yates auditorium Friday morning, marking the unconventional start to a memorial honoring the late director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sam Hamilton.

Hamilton, who died unexpectedly at the age of 54 during a ski trip in February, focused during his 30 years of federal service on conserving what his former colleague Jamie Rappaport Clark called "critters and special places."

A number of co-workers recalled Hamilton's devotion to his work, family and the outdoors during the service. Dan Ashe, Fish and Wildlife deputy director, recounted how Hamilton kept a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread in his desk at all times so he could "eat on the run," and how he rejoiced when he learned a federal training center had a laundry room where he could wash and iron his shirts.

Corky Pugh, who directs the Alabama division of wildlife and freshwater fisheries, described how he and Hamilton had hunted wild turkeys together many times. They had been scheduled to go hunt them again Friday.

"You may not have heard it this morning," Pugh said, "but just as the sky began to gray up, 2 million Eastern wild turkey gobblers sang for Sam."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar presented Hamilton's widow, Becky, and her children a distinguished service award in Hamilton's name and an award commemorating his 30 years of federal service. He told the packed auditorium that Hamilton's legacy will continue to shape the department's work.

"It isn't over," Salazar said. "Our challenge is to make sure Sam's life is a life that lives within us."

That life was embodied by the free flight of Challenger, a 21-year old bald eagle that raced through the auditorium. American Eagle Foundation president Al Cecere explained that Hamilton had invited the bird to participate in award ceremonies he conducted as a FWS regional director, and even helped the foundation take the eagle to Hawaii to fly in the Pro Bowl.

"He was always willing to help us out when we had a need," Cecere said.

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By Juliet Eilperin  | April 9, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  | Tags:  Film director, Fish, Interior Department, Sam Hamilton, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, United States, United States Department of the Interior, United States Fish and Wildlife Service  
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