West Virginia Highlands Conservancy founding member, past president, Voice editor, and friend passed away on July 23, 2012. We will begin with just the facts–his obituary–followed by some remembrances.


Robert Guthrie Burrell, 78, passed away quietly at home in Morgantown, WV, on July 23, 2012, due to brain cancer. He was born in Springfield OH, the son of the late Nial Lanson Burrell and Helen Louise Cline Burrell. He was educated in the public schools of Springfield and earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees in bacteriology from The Ohio State University in Columbus OH.

After serving three years on the faculty of Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, he was appointed in 1961 to the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown WV where he taught and conducted basic medical research in immunology and microbiology for 35 years, retiring to Colington Harbour NC in 1996. In recognition of his immunological achievements, he was elected to membership by the American Association of Immunologists in 1965. He specialized in diseases of the lung caused by the inhalation of occupational and environmental dusts and because of this was helpful in locating the NIOSH facility in Morgantown. He was a leader in the injurious effects of the inhalation of mineral and microbiallycontaminated dusts. He served as the first guest investigator in environmental health at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden in 1980 and was a consulting immunologist for several medical products companies.

Bob chose to be an active participant wherever he was living. He was an environmental activist in West Virginia where he served in many leadership capacities, particularly in the fields of protection of wildlife habitat and free-flowing rivers and was the co-author of the first reliable guide to the whitewater rivers of West Virginia. Continuing these kinds of interests while living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he was a volunteer with the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the North Carolina Aquarium. He returned to Morgantown in 2004 and was a volunteer at Mon General Hospital and a teacher in Appalachian Life Long Learner, the WVU Herbarium, and Mountaineer Audubon. He became very active in the Sterile Processing Production, Surgicare, and Pathfinder Service. In 2007, he became a certified Master Naturalist of the WV-DNR.

Bob liked to sample and become involved in a number of widely different activities. At various times he was a folk musician, writer, chorister and water colorist. He had been a member of the Dare and Pasquatonk County (NC) Arts Councils.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elaine Barrows Burrell; one son, Doren Burrell of Charleston WV; one daughter, Chara Whittemore, and her husband Jesse of Friendsville MD; a granddaughter Sierra Ellyse O’Brien, also of Friendsville; and a sister, Patricia Burrell Ream, of Cambridge OH, as well as numerous nephews and nieces.

Hastings Funeral Home of Morgantown is in charge of the arrangements. Send condolences online at


In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family suggests that donations may be made to any of the following charities: Morgantown Hospice, PO Box 4222, Morgantown, WV 26504; Friends of the Cheat, 119 S. Price Street, Suite 206, Kingwood, WV 26537; West Virginia Botanic Garden, PMB #121, 714 Venture, WV 26508, 304- 376-2717 or toVolunteers of Monongalia General Hospital, 1200 JD Anderson Dr., Morgantown, WV 26505, 304-598-1328



Dave Elkinton

My first Conservancy event was a Fall Review Weekend in 1970 soon after Linda and I had started looking for support in fighting the Davis Power Project. Bob was the Voice Editor, and as a board member, was key in being sure the Conservancy didn’t adopt any pro or con position unless it was fact-based. I think he authored a Voice article simply asking questions that needed answers before positions were established. I knew then he was a fact-oriented person, which as a scientist, was hardly surprising.

Some years later, I had the honor of following him as president of the Conservancy. During his tenure as second president, he had continued to write a monthly column, begun when he was the first editor prior to his assuming the presidency. I asked him to continue it, and he graciously accepted. So for a decade he was the “voice” of the Conservancy in print, often quoted and occasionally appearing in the general press.

But for all Bob’s organizational work, writing, office and back room support, his real passion was on the water. I am sure his years researching and writing the first canoe and kayak guide in West Virginia, West Virginia Wildwater, was among his most happy projects. It went through many editions and his comments have guided countless thousands through rapids across the state.

He was a complete outdoorsperson. I remember him gathering a preparing wild mushrooms one year at a Fall Review. I know he was an active Audubon member, and very active volunteer naturalist on the Outer Banks after he and Elaine retired there. I was not surprised to hear he became a certified Master Gardener after returning to Morgantown.

I had the pleasure to discover that Bob loved cowboy songs and on several occasions he shared his music with guests at various venues. He was a multi-talented, high energy guy.

The success of the Highlands Voice as a publication, the involvement of a second generation of its leaders, and therefore the Highlands Conservancy as we know it today, is in no small way a direct result of the talents of Bob Burrell. He will be missed.



By Lowell Markey

I moved to West Virginia in 1971 and soon thereafter was urged to attend a meeting of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy by Dave Elkinton. Bob Burrell was president of the Conservancy at that time.

I was a young adult at the beginning of a career and I saw Bob as a prototypical leader.

The Conservancy was then and is now a coalition of different interests. Many of these interests were recreation-based: climbers, canoeists, backpackers, birders, etc. Mix in those who came to the organization to promote a particular resource: water, forests, air, etc.

. There was also a mix of scientific expertise with pure, unadulterated love of “nature.” Board meetings were exciting discussions with many voicing passionately-held positions, sometimes countervailing.

As I remember, Bob chaired these meetings with a remarkably steady and even-handed demeanor. He was able to calmly guide the group toward consensus and a positive course of action on many issues of those days with wilderness protection often taking the fore.

Credit my Dad for igniting my life-long interest in environmental issues. He was a Pennsylvania physician who planned many weekend jaunts to seek out wild-flowing streams and teasing native trout to the end of his fly line. Despite a very busy practice, he found time to type out letters on a manual machine to politicians asking that this or that stream be preserved from dams, development, etc.

Credit Bob Burrell for guiding and crafting the ability of several young Conservancy members to devote tremendous amounts of time to research, data collection, lobbying, publicity, and other efforts to urge wise use the resources of the precious West Virginia Highlands.

Credit Bob Burrell for guiding and influencing the expertise of more senior members and helping them shape objectives. His steady hand was vitally important as the infant Conservancy organization gained credibility and standing in the eyes of West Virginia political, media, social, and commercial leadership.

Bob’s personal stationary in the 1970′s included a little saying that went something like: “Turn off a light and listen to a free-flowing West Virginia stream whisper thanks.” Anyone with a Gmail account can see my personal Gmail “slogan” in 2012 in amazingly similar to Bob’s 1970’s saying. Thanks for everything, Bob!




Among Bob Burrell’s many contributions to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy was his role as the first editor of The Highlands Voice. Here is the opening paragraph from the opening issue, March, 1969:

This newsletter inaugurates an attempt to keep members of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy as to the status of, action on, and trends in matters pertaining to conservation in West Virginia particularly in the Highlands region. It shall be our intent to broaden lines of communication on these matters among members and other interested parties. The quarterly newsletter will inform as fully as possible, it will relate items of interest from other sources, and it will provoke. It is intended to provoke discussion, constructive criticism, and action by offering opinions at times designed solely for this purpose. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions will be those of the editor. It is hoped that these opinions will invite correspondence and discussion. A vigorous newsletter can then be the result of the collective effort by all of the members. The newsletter will act as a crossroads for such correspondence. Please send any material for the newsletter to 1412 Western. Ave., Morgantown, WV 26505.

Among many its many features, this opening paragraph addresses an issue that is still with us today. The Voice occasionally hears from readers who assume that everything that appears in The Highlands Voice is an official Conservancy position. Even from the beginning this was not true. What is in the Voice represents the opinion of the editor or one of our members. It is “intended to provoke discussion”, and only occasionally announce positions of the Conservancy.



By Ron Hardway

I first encountered Bob Burrell through our mutual respect and admiration for wild, free-flowing, clean West Virginia rivers. I was increasingly distressed by what appeared to me to be wanton destruction of the hardwood forests along the banks of Williams and Cranberry rivers, both of which were prime trout fisheries in the Monongahela National Forest. The logging jobs that were taking place along those rivers were on a scale and in a method unfamiliar to me. The method, of course, was clear-cutting, and the scale put me in mind of some of the grainy black and white photos taken in Webster County in the 1920s and 1930s which showed, unbelievably, not a tree standing on the mountains from which the county is made.

Clear cutting on the Monongahela was not as bad as it had been in an earlier age, but the effects on the mountain streams were much the same. While the U.S. Forest Service gave lip service to the need to practice stream conservation and erosion prevention, the fact remained that the local logging crews who worked at the USFS’s bidding cared not a whit for keeping water clean and pure and could care less if any trees were left in place to anchor the soil and hold it where it was supposed to be.

It seemed to me that someone somewhere should be doing something about the fact that Williams River, on a brilliantly clear afternoon in mid-October with brilliant red, yellow and orange leaves silhouetted against a deep blue cloudless sky, was rushing water downstream that looked like it came from the Mississippi around Memphis.

It did not take a PhD in hydrology to figure out the source of the problem. My bachelor of arts in history was enough to tell me that bulldozers plowing roads through the middle of small creeks followed by huge log trucks wobbling along the narrow, rutted tracks behind the dozers were not only creating the mud, but were killing the small tributary of all living things in the creek. Only the mud and slime were left in their wake.

I came across a mention of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy in some news article in the Charleston Gazette and the article included the name and address of the editor of the group’s newsletter, The Highlands Voice. And so I wrote to Bob Mr. Burrell and threw a literary tantrum over several pages about the USFS and their evil machinations in the Cranberry Back Country. A few days later I received an invitation from Mr. Burrell to write about my observations and, space permitting, perhaps something could be inserted in The Voice. Within hours I had several pages of personal observations and impressions in the mail back to Burrell.

A much edited version of that first rant did appear in the Voice, and a spirited exchange of letters began between us. Letters in the mail between us continued for several months. At Bob’s suggestion I also began writing frequently to W.Va.’s members of Congress, especially to senators Byrd and Randolph, and Rep. Harley O. Staggers who “represented” the vast district which included all of the Monongahela National Forest.

Nearly all of my letters focused on inclusion of the Cranberry Backcountry within the US Agriculture Department’s national wilderness system. Bob, of course, was also a frequent correspondent with our representatives in Washington, mostly about preservation and protection of wild rivers. We tried comparing our replies from Byrd, Randolph and Staggers in an attempt to catch them up in contradictions. We finally realized that we were receiving pre-signed, form letters rather than personal replies from our elected representatives. We were unsure whether to be angry or amused with our men in Washington. We finally agreed that whatever their failings, they were head and shoulders above our men in Charleston.

At some point Bob became president of the Highlands Conservancy. For a brief time I held the position of Highlands Regional Vice-President, a job that held as much power and influence as any designated vice-president, from V-P of the United States to V-P of Exxon. That is to say, “not much.” When he assumed the reins of power in the WVHC, Bob was obliged to relinquish his editorship of The Highlands Voice. He thought I had matured enough over the couple of years that he had known me that I could be trusted to edit the leading environmental publication in West Virginia. He recommended me for the job.

With Bob’s input, direction, guidance and benevolent supervision, The Voice transitioned from a mimeographed, stapled newsletter into a full-blown monthly newsprint tabloid. I solicited manuscripts from everyone I knew along the East Coast who had an environmental angle to trumpet, and we probably could have published weekly and had material left over. Fortunately, publishing costs required us to be more selective and publish only the best of the available material. Being editor of The Highlands Voice was without question the best job I ever had.

That job also placed me in close contact with the movers and shakers of the Highlands Conservancy in those early years. People like Sayre and Jean Rodman, Bruce Sundquist, Helen McGinnis, George Langford, Joe and Mary Rieffenberger, Linda Cooper, Nick Zvegintzov, Bill McNeel, and Dave Elkinton, among many others, became good friends. But at the center of this small group of activists, the unquestioned leader was Bob Burrell. Bob brought dignity, intelligence and a quiet confidence that earned for the Highlands Conservancy the respect and credibility it needed in the late 70s to establish itself as the representative and spokesperson for the environment in West Virginia.

Under Bob Burrell’s leadership, in a few short years, he and I progressed from the point where we received rubber stamped form letters from Congressmen to being asked personally by Jay Rockefeller to sit down and share with him a meal of cheeseburgers and fries at a little mountainside diner near Marlinton. The fact that I got stuck with the bill for lunch that afternoon proved that we had arrived, according to Bob who was highly amused by the entire episode.

Early in the 1980s, the torch was passed to more eager, lessjaundiced hands within the Conservancy, and Bob and I moved on to other interests. Bob eventually relocated to North Carolina, and I migrated to South Carolina.

One day, out of blue cyberspace I received an email from Bob making fun of some state politicians who had offended him. I immediately answered with a list of state politicians that had offended me. We enjoyed making fun of these people, none of whom ever knew that they were the butt of extensive jokes by two masters of the political put-down. That was unfortunate. We should have gone public with our observations. I’ll bet if we had it to do over again, we would do so.

The world in general, and West Virginia in particular, are much better places for having Bob Burrell turn his attention to their environmental challenges. I am a much better person for having known him and worked with him. I will be forever grateful.



Written by Administrator in: In Memory and Honor of,The Highlands Voice |

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