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1 October 2000 IN MEMORIAM: COLONEL JACK VINCENT, 1904–1999
John Vincent
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Jack Vincent was born in London, England, on 6 March 1904. At the age of 21, he emigrated to South Africa and worked on two farms in the Richmond district of Natal before returning to England to work for the British Museum. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was sent on a number of bird-collecting expeditions in east, central, and southern Africa, some on his own and others in the company of Admiral Hubert Lynes of the Battle of Jutland fame. In ornithological circles, Lynes perhaps is best known for unraveling the systematics of the cisticolas, a notoriously difficult group of Old World warblers. Jack played a large part in this work, and his own monumental work was a study of the birds of northern Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) in 1930. Several subspecies of birds bear his name.

On his return from the last expedition, in 1934, Jack met a Scottish girl, Mary Russell, in Cape Town; he proposed to and married her within a week! After a year in London, Jardine Mathieson Co. sent him to Zanzibar to start the first clove distillery in that most famous of the “clove isles.” After three years there, he was transferred to a sisal plantation in Tanganyika, now known as Tanzania. In 1937, Jack bought a farm in the Mooi River district of Natal in South Africa.

During World War II, Jack served with the then Royal Natal Carbineers in east and north Africa, where he was awarded the MBE for his service. In 1942, he was seconded to the British Army in Haifa, Palestine.

In 1949, Jack was asked to take over the fledgling Natal Parks Board. Under his guidance, the Board became one of the most famous of the world's nature conservation authorities, particularly for the role it played in saving the white rhino from extinction. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he served as editor of The Ostrich, the journal of the South African Ornithological Society. He became a Corresponding Fellow of the AOU in 1949.

In 1963, Jack accepted a post with the International Council for Bird Preservation and moved to Morges in Switzerland, where he worked in international conservation for four years. During this time he was awarded the World Wildlife Fund Gold Medal and the Order of the Golden Ark by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

Jack returned to rejoin the Natal Parks Board in 1967 before finally retiring in 1974 to live again on his farm. In 1989, Mary died and Jack moved to Pietermaritzburg, where he lived with me until his death on 3 July 1999 at the age of 95. In 1990, he privately published his autobiography, Web of Experience. He typed the manuscript himself while suffering a temporary paralysis of his arm muscles. In 1993, the University of Natal conferred an honorary Doctorate on him for his services to environmental conservation.

Throughout his life, Jack Vincent was a leader who had the confidence, respect, and love of his staff. His simple philosophy was that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing properly. If something was morally and justifiably right, then he pressed on regardless. His achievements were not done for himself, but always in the interests of others. In addition to me, Jack is survived by his daughter Thamar, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. A longer memorial, with portrait, will appear in The Ibis.


John Vincent "IN MEMORIAM: COLONEL JACK VINCENT, 1904–1999," The Auk 117(4), 1032-1033, (1 October 2000).[1032:IMCJV]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 October 2000
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