Special Contributor Bil Gilbert was in New York last week to pick up his third consecutive Penney-Missouri Magazine Award, first prize in the Contemporary Living category for his article "Journey Into Spring" (SI, May 8, 1978), an account of a canoe trip down the West Branch of Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River with his daughter, Lyn. It was Lyn's second appearance in one of her father's stories, the first having been in "Thank Heaven For..." (SI, Nov. 27, 1967). She was, appropriately enough, on hand for the ceremony in Manhattan. (As industrious as he is gifted, Gilbert was a finalist in three other categories as well.)
His first Penney-Missouri award, for "My Country 'Tis of Thee"(SI, Dec. 20-27, 1976), an assessment of the state of the environment, and his second, for a two-parter on high school football in November 1977, only hint at the diversity of the subjects Gilbert has covered for us. They have ranged from fleas, worms, the sea otter and a wayward moose to women in sport and the use of drugs. This fall he is a visiting professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, sharing his knowledge of writing and enjoying the academic environment. "I don't believe there is any way a person can be taught to write," he says, "but a person can be encouraged to do so. And I think this is well worth doing."
Gilbert's latest story, which begins on page 86, is both a profile of wolf-enthusiast Jack Lynch and an account of his struggle to preserve the last of the buffalo wolves. Lynch may know more about the wolf in captivity thin any man who has ever lived; Gilbert says he is one of the most extraordinary and admirable men he has written about in his 25 years as a journalist.
Lynch's devotion to wolves is complete. He has forgone most of life's comforts to give his animals what they need, and they, in turn, have permitted him to learn their ways. "After a whole day's conversation about wolves," Gilbert says, "we were sitting inside the cabin, just relaxing, when one of them suddenly appeared at the window. 'I think one of your friends is loose,' I said. Rather than reach for his tranquilizing gun, Lynch wondered aloud what could have gone wrong within the social order of the pack. He sat quietly, mulling the problem over, then walked outside. On the theory that the wolf was probably jealous of the visitor, Lynch spoke to it softly, in comforting tones, and told it to return to its pen. The wolf simply did so."
November 5, 1979
Gilbert's description of Lynch and his magnificent obsession is, we think, another splendid job, but we can tell you right now that he is not going to win a Penney-Missouri award for 1979. His three victories make Gilbert ineligible for two years.