CHS Blog

Steve Mockford - In Memoriam (1954 – 2023)

June 06, 2023
Tom Herman

On Sunday, May 21st, the Canadian Herpetological Society lost an advocate and a friend. Steve Mockford was instrumental in the birth of CHS, serving as its first President. He worked tirelessly to nurture its growth, celebrate its success, and make it welcome and relevant to a new generation of herpetologists. Steve served the Society in countless ways, most recently as a member of the Social Media Committee and co-manager of the Facebook page.

Self-portrait of Steve Mockford (photo credit: Estate of Steve Mockford)

There were many dimensions to Steve; few of us experienced them all, but to encounter even some was enriching and joyful. Steve touched, and indeed lived, many lives. As diverse as his lives were, there were common threads woven throughout - humour, kindness, patience, determination, an exuberance for life, and respect for humanity.

I first met Steve in 1991 as he was retiring from one set of lives, in the Canadian Armed Forces, to another set, in the halls of Academe at Acadia University. His wisdom and insatiable curiosity were readily apparent, and he became my first Honours student with grandchildren but no high school diploma! After completing his first degree, he moved on to complete a Ph.D. in population genetics at Dalhousie, returning to Acadia as a professor in Biology, where he taught until his second retirement.

As an academic, Steve was a superb colleague to all, inside and outside the department, providing wise counsel or simply lending an ear. He served two terms as Acting Department Head, provided direction and focus to curriculum and program development, and sat on countless committees. Yet his focus first and foremost was always on students; they shaped his teaching and his research.

As a mentor, Steve had few equals. He knew all his students, whether they were first year or graduate. He had the ability to draw them out and to see the possibilities; he encouraged enthusiasms, spawned careers, and changed lives. Steve got great pleasure from teaching, whether it was Intro Biology or a graduate seminar in conservation genetics. But his mentoring extended well beyond the classroom, to all ages. Even as preschoolers his grandchildren, who fondly called Steve 'Big Guy', had a grasp of science rivalling that of most adults!

As a conservation biologist, Steve blended curiosity and application. He was intensely collaborative, particularly with students. His innovative work on population genetic structure in Blanding's Turtle in Nova Scotia changed both our understanding and our approach to recovery. Steve's commitment to doing science in service of community was epitomized by his long service as Board Chair of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI), a community-based research and education cooperative promoting biodiversity conservation and wise resource use in southwest Nova Scotia. During his tenure, MTRI gained an enviable reputation as an honest broker in conservation conversations in the region.

Steve with friends from near and far at World Congress of Herpetology, Vancouver, August 2012
(photo credit: Estate of Steve Mockford)

Steve's unique talents were recognized by the Nova Scotia government when he was appointed to a small task force to draft the province's first Biodiversity Strategy. As a skilled and respectful listener with broad knowledge of conservation and sustainable resource use, Steve was able to reach out to a diverse audience; the strategy that resulted raised the profile of biodiversity conservation in the province at a critical time.

As a citizen activist, Steve was no stranger to the political arena. He saw social justice and environmental justice as two sides of the same coin. In pursuit of either, Steve's approach was always evidence-based and direct; he could be forceful, but he was always respectful, even of those with whom he vehemently disagreed. This made him both an effective advocate and a worthy and memorable opponent.

As an artist, Steve was a gifted photographer with a remarkable eye for light and for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Dawn was his preferred time to shoot, but even with the distraction of sunrises, he was able to indulge his fascination with human landscapes and timeworn buildings - a reminder of our fallibility and ultimate bond with nature. After his second retirement, Steve devoted much of his time to his art, leaving a rich legacy of images for all to enjoy.

Steve the inveterate photographer, always with camera at hand (photo credit: Estate of Steve Mockford)

The one constant in all of Steve's lives and pursuits was his deep connection to family. His wife Lorraine, the love of his life for 50 years, his parents, siblings, son and daughters, and grandchildren were always on his mind and in his heart. He was immensely proud of who they were and what they accomplished. And we are all indebted to them for graciously sharing him with us.

A younger Steve with Lorraine, the love of his life for 50 years (photo credit: Estate of Steve Mockford)

As a human, Steve understood our responsibilities to one another and to the planet better than most. On his last day, with family gathered at his bedside, his final words were to remind us all "to do collective good". Sage advice indeed, and what better way to honour his memory.