Erwin and Peggy Bauer: A Personal TributeFebruary 19, 2004 & March 23, 2004
by Tom Walker
Wildlife and outdoor photography piqued my interest in the late 1950s and blossomed in the 1960s. I was an avid reader of Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Field and Stream. Two names dominated the bylines and photographs in "The Big Three": Erwin A. Bauer and Leonard Lee III. I grew up wanting a career like these two men, my boyhood idols. In some of the issues, all the articles, whether hunting, fishing, or camping, were written and illustrated by Erwin using his own name and pen names. In the outdoor genre, he pioneered the concept of a "package" production - both photographs and text by the same person.
Through years of toil and perseverance I carved out a similar but smaller niche for myself. By coincidence I met both Erwin ("Joe" to his friends) and Leonard in the same year in the early 1970s. I met Joe and his bride Peggy at Alaska's Katmai National Park; Leonard and his son Len Jr. at McNeil River.
Joe's professionalism with both camera and typewriter and his legendary work ethic truly impressed me. I enjoyed both writing and photography and knew that I could learn a lot from him. He wasn't a people person and may have seemed distant, or grumpy even, to some people he met in the field, but he and Peggy treated me as a friend from the day we met. Peggy took a shine right away to my daughter, Mary Anne, then four years old. Right up until she left for college, Mary Anne received birthday cards and Christmas notes from Peggy. Peggy wanted my daughter to attend her alma mater, Mount Holyoke, and at one point even offered to "help out."
The highlight of my career was a trip that I took with the Bauers and others to the Falklands and South Georgia Island. Prior to the trip Joe, then 80, had been ill and had needed two different surgeries, one of which I didn't think he was fully recovered from. Despite rough seas and difficult landings, Joe made the trip to shore whenever possible. His determination and dedication was inspiring. A few times Peggy and I ended up together shooting pictures of penguins perched on their nests and on our return to the boat Joe demanded a full report. He always seemed disappointed to have missed the action, no matter how minimal. I came away from that trip with the fervent hope that when I get to be Joe's age I will be able to do the same things. Also it seemed to me then that they had the most that anyone could want, a genuine love and love of what they did together.
Erwin Adam Bauer was born in Cincinnati on August 22, 1919. He studied engineering at the University of Cincinnati but after three years decided that career was not for him. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Joe, one of the "Ninety Day Wonders,'' was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In time he shipped out to Casablanca with the Army's 34th Infantry Division for the fight against Rommel's "Afrika Corps." In the Italian campaign he was wounded near Pisa, earning the Purple Heart. Among his medals was the Croix de Guerre from the Free French in Africa. Once, and just once, we exchanged stories of our Army experiences, mine vastly less spectacular than his.
In the late 1990's I spent some time with the Bauers in Florida. It was my first trip there, just one of many for them. Every now and again Peggy would look at Joe and I and just start laughing. "I'll bet you are the only two people in Florida wearing jeans and long-sleeve shirts," she would chortle as the sunburned tourists in their shorts ambled by. It was on this trip that I told Peggy that I viewed Joe as the "God of Outdoor Photography." She never let me forget it. In emails or cards she would always write things like "God says Hello," or "God sends well wishes to his Supplicant," and once - my favorite - "God is asleep on the couch."
Joe met Peggy (Grace) Reid in the Seychelles in 1971, as I remember it, and were married that year. "The last thing on either of our minds on that trip," Joe told me, "was to meet someone." That chance meeting spawned a dynamic and prolific nature photography team. Very soon the bylines read: Erwin and Peggy Bauer. In addition to countless magazine articles in all the wildlife and conservation magazines, and 800 calendar images, they wrote and illustrated 50 books. They belonged to almost every conservation organization in the nation. To honor Joe and Peggy's contributions, NANPA awarded them its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Peggy and Joe were charter members of NANPA.
For over 30 years, Team Bauer traveled around the world photographing everything from Aardvarks to Zebras. Nothing was too small to escape their notice. The last time I saw them in Denali National Park, they were thrilled to have photographed barn swallows gathering mud for their nests. Joe's excitement was infectious. Here's a man, I thought, who has photographed grizzlies, elephants, tigers, and pandas, yet he is still excited by watching a small bird building a nest.
I last talked to Peggy and Joe by phone in December 2003. Although Joe never mentioned feeling ill, Peggy said he was sick and struggling at their Sequim home with bone marrow failure. Then in late February I received this email:
Dear friends: Please excuse this form that I must use to inform all you dear friends that Joe (Erwin) Bauer died peacefully with me in our bed very early on the morning of the 19th February. He was 84. Please do not send flowers. If you would like to make any gesture at all (and none is necessary) please send a remembrance to Hospice of Clallam County, PO Box 2014, Port Angeles, WA 98362 in his name. These marvelous people hide what must be the wings of angels beneath their clothing. My love goes with this message to each of you, Peggy.
In the ensuing days I spoke with Peggy and found her grief-stricken. Through tears she told me that by Joe's request she had him cremated, sans religious services. There was little I could say to assuage her powerful mourning. One day in early March she called me and said she had a favor to ask. "Joe loved Africa, you know, and I'd like to take some of his ashes there, but he always loved Alaska, especially Denali Park, best. Would you..." and then she began to cry. In the end I agreed to spread his ashes in the special place of her choosing.
A phone call very early on March 24 brought stunning news. Peggy was dead. Around noon the day before, she had died in a four-car auto collision in Sequim. A preliminary investigation indicated that she had failed to yield to oncoming traffic at an intersection and her Escort had collided with a pickup truck. Peggy Bauer, 72, was pronounced dead at the scene despite resuscitation efforts by Clallam County Fire rescue crews. Others involved in the accident went uninjured or sustained only minor injuries.
The news of Peggy's death struck hard, coming as it had just a few weeks after her husband's passing. I struggled with this tragic and confusing news. Although we will never know what transpired in those last moments, from my conversation with Peggy I believe that her thoughts had drifted away to some other place and to someone else.
The Bauers' friend Scott Elko sent an email that morning which echoed one of my thoughts: "We've lost another one of our dear friends, I hope that we can all find comfort knowing that Joe and Peggy have been reunited once again."
Early the very next day, still reeling, I received the package Peggy had sent containing a portion of Joe's ashes. Along with it was a brief note signed, as usual, "I love you, Peggy."
I will not fail my friends. Very soon I will spread Joe's ashes in the place he loved and that Peggy had chosen for him. It is a place in the shadow of America's tallest mountain and trod by the wildlife that they both loved.
Tom Walker is a photographer from Denali Park, Alaska.