Two kids running in the snow. We all need nature—and nature needs you. Together, we can protect the wildlife and wild lands of Massachusetts for generations to come. Make a tax-deductible donation today.
Two kids running in the snow. We all need nature—and nature needs you. Together, we can protect the wildlife and wild lands of Massachusetts for generations to come. Make a tax-deductible donation today.
Man with white hair and brown mustache taps into a tree with several young boys around him.
Program at Oak Knoll, Attleboro.

In Your Words: Robert "Otter" Brown

June 16, 2020

I met my wife at the bottom of a pool at Wildwood Overnight Camp in 1976, back when the camp was located at Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary in Barre. It was not an auspicious introduction. As the new director, I decided to drain the pool before camp started and paint food chains on the floor instead of lane lines. My wife, Suzy, had been hired as the water safety instructor and arrived from Ohio around midnight. I looked up and saw my new pool director with a cast on her arm from a cheerleading accident. Suzy looked down and saw a long-haired, 30-year-old camp director painting a turtle at the water line while dancing to folk music.

Suzy and I were married at Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in 1977 and lived there for three years while starting our public school teaching careers.  My experiences teaching with Mass Audubon served me well, from summers at Wildwood to providing biweekly science programs to thousands of fifth-graders.

Man with a white mustache and blue hat sitting in a tree.

In 1980 we moved to Rhode Island and I started a new ninth-grade environmental science program at the Wheeler School in Providence. Recognizing the power of student research teams, I developed several curriculums, the most successful of which focused on river science in our local watershed. This led me to adopt my nickname, Otter, an animal I fell in love with while whitewater kayaking and doing field research along rivers.

I retired in 2015 and headed to the nearest Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, Oak Knoll in Attleboro, to volunteer. After getting my early start with Mass Audubon, it was a natural place to finish...and what a special place Oak Knoll is! Although I miss my former students, I can see the same fire in the eyes of kids that attend programs at the sanctuary.

Man sitting in front of a large tree with one hand in the air, talking to a group of students around him. All are bundled in jackets and snow is in the background.

These days, when I’m not spending time with Suzy and our family, you can often find me working in the gardens, tapping maple trees for vacation-week programs, maintaining the trails, leading programs, or even appearing as the famous Rock Man in our Halloween Spooktacular. One place you won’t find me: at the bottom of a swimming pool!