Please Note: This is an archive article from 2005. It was accurate at the time it was written,
but may now be out of date.
Richard and Lorraine Fleming are superheroes for the environment. Michael E. Riska, executive director of the Delaware Nature Society, says about the Flemings: "I do not think there is a greater ‘Dynamic Duo’ for the environment in the state of Delaware." The 2005 Delaware Audubon Conservation Award is a tribute to their efforts.
The award was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Delaware Audubon Society on Sunday, May 1, 2005, at Cokesbury Village in Hockessin.
Richard Fleming says he resolved to be a chemist when, in the 7th Grade, he discovered that "fireworks were really fun to make." Armed with books from the library, he spent his time experimenting in the basement at home on the south side of Chicago. His attempt to make a smoke screen was successful—albeit slightly ahead of schedule—when he accidentally dropped the bottle on the concrete floor and smoke poured from the basement windows.
His enthusiasm carried on into his studies at Knox College, where he met his future wife. Due to their similar interests, one would think they met in science class, but they didn't. Richard spotted Lorraine when they were both singing in the choir and, as he charmingly puts it, "made her my objective."
Richard was in his senior year at Knox when his father, an accountant, encouraged him to attain an advanced degree. Upon receiving his doctorate from Iowa State, he started looking for a job in what was a "Golden Era for people looking for employment" in the chemistry field. Fleming was narrowing his job prospects when a professor at the university, also a consultant for DuPont, encouraged him to apply. In the course of what would be a long and productive career at DuPont, Richard Fleming authored 20 technical publications, half of them on the topic of plastics recycling. He is also named on six U.S. and foreign patents. After retirement, he provided consulting services for several years until Lorraine got him involved at the Delaware Nature Society.
At DNS, he was drawn to advocacy and he has devoted countless hours to environmental matters. When it comes to complex issues, "he is a master at getting things down to understandable terms," says Mike Riska, DNS Executive Director. He also praises Fleming's "statesman-like approach" and his ability as a consensus builder. Riska continues, "I am more impressed by his leadership and his management style, not just his knowledge; by his ability to work with people" and get everyone on board with an issue.
Getting to this point was not easy, Fleming admits. "Environmentalists cast a jaundiced eye at people in the chemical industry and don't trust industry types." Eventually, he won them over. "I was viewed with suspicion by a lot of people when I went to these meetings, but I began to be accepted by various influential people in Delaware's environmental community." He began to establish his credibility and thus was "accepted by many people—but not all—as someone who could represent the conservation movement, as someone who understands their concerns and shares their vision. Richard says he "comes at issues in an even and balanced way." He is admired for his science-based approach in looking for solutions.
Richard Fleming has come a long way since those early chemistry experiments in a Chicago basement. "After 33 years at DuPont, I was able to say, ‘That was really fun,’ but I was not willing to give it up; so I consulted on technical issues. But I was still not willing to give it up; so Lorraine got me into the environmental area." Richard Fleming considers himself born into his interest and says he has "had the good fortune to pursue it since I was 12 years old. I have had a very enjoyable time with technology."
Lorraine Fleming's interest in the outdoors began when her grandfather gave her a bird book. Then, in the 7th Grade, a teacher led Lorraine as part of a small group on wildflower walks to view bits and pieces of remaining prairie in the greater Chicago area. Impressed upon Lorraine was the importance of preserving these sites and their rarities. The course of Lorraine Fleming's life was decided.
After attending Knox College, where she met her husband, she went on to receive a B.S. in zoology from Iowa State and a Master of Education in biological science from the University of Delaware. She was a zoology instructor at Iowa State and a teacher-editor as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware Museum Studies Program. She has been affiliated for many years with the Delaware Nature Society. Though now retired, she spends many hours as a DNS volunteer and serves on committees for advocacy, conservancy, annual giving, and publications.
Lorraine Fleming is well known as the author of Delaware's Outstanding Natural Areas, published in 1978 by what was then the Delaware Nature Education Society. When the book was being written, she says, many sensed the development boom in Delaware's future. "It was easy to see that the development was coming, but what was not expected was such explosive growth."
"Much of our wetlands border active farms, and we realize that whatever the impact of agriculture, the impact of development is greater," she says. "As years have gone by, some things have improved; but there has also been degradation of our water, air, and so on. All of our areas have tended to degrade, and particularly our upland forests have been the victims for the last two decades from constant whittling away. Fragmentation is taking a terrible toll in Delaware. These areas cannot exist as islands. We need to re-connect the fragments—farms connecting to natural areas. That is our last hope, in my opinion."
Habitats and conservation were again Lorraine's topics when she co-authored Birds Of Delaware. She also had the managerial tasks of assembling this significant reference work. "Finding a publisher was also my job," she says. A daunting responsibility, but to Fleming a welcome one. "I found out very early in my career that I really like producing a product—something that can be held in the hand." She is also intensely interested in land preservation. These two things, Lorraine Fleming says, are the most personally satisfying: Her land preservation efforts and her publication credits.
"I think of myself more as a person to start projects. I am not a good person to pick up on something that someone else has started and expand upon it. I like to initiate projects." With such an entrepreneurial attitude, she keeps very busy at DNS even in her retirement.
Lorraine has shepherded all the DNS publications. She has numerous titles to her credit, in a direct or indirect capacity, including her work as project manager for Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva, editor-manager for Wildflowers of Delaware and the Eastern Shore, and again in that role for Butterflies of Delmarva.
Books are powerful tools. Dorothy Miller, a longtime defender of White Clay Creek—one of the sites in Delaware's Outstanding Natural Areas— said its appearance in the book helped raise awareness. "Every time White Clay gets into print, it helps raise awareness! All publicity is appreciated!" Miller is sensitive to the cause and has worked with Fleming in the area of open-space and farmland preservation; and the more the word gets out, the better the chances for success.
Lorraine is always willing to help get the word out, and the Flemings have been a dynamic force in conserving Delaware's environment. They are the first couple to earn the Delaware Audubon Conservation Award.
Past recipients of the Delaware Audubon Society Conservation Award are Peggy Jahn, Lynne Frink, Gwynne Smith, Rick West, Jacob Kreshtool, Til Purnell, Don Sharpe, Barbara Lundberg, Leah Roedel, Ruth Ann Minner, Joseph Biden, Winston Wayne, Russell Peterson, Grace Pierce-Beck, Dorothy Miller, Edward W. Cooch, Jr., Lynn Williams, Thomas Sharp, Ann Rydgren, Albert Matlack, and Warren Lauder.