Lucille Farrier Stickel: Research Pioneer

Refuge Update July-August 2008

Credit: USFWS

“Here she was the director of the research center and her husband a prestigious biologist and in evenings and on weekends, you would see the two of them going around with little bags picking up trash and gum wrappers along the side of the entrance road.”  So recalls Gary Heinz, a US Geological Survey research biologist whose career was nurtured by Lucille Stickel at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Stickel was honored with the Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in 1973, the year after she became director of the Patuxent Research Center.  Listed in American Men of Science, she was among the highest ranking career women in the federal government, receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior and the Federal Women’s Award.

Stickel would eventually write 44 scientific papers on the effects of contaminants on wildlife, but she wrote her first paper on the subject in 1946 – a study of the then new pesticide DDT.  Her research formed the basis of much of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.  

In between earning master and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, Lucille Farrier married William Stickel and accompanied him when he accepted a position at Patuxent.  The couple worked and lived at the research center for almost 40 years.

The Stickels did not have children, but Heinz says she mentored research staff members as though they were her children.  Stickel once told Heinz she had had a domineering supervisor when she was a young biologist and never wanted her younger scientists to be in that situation. “We had a very long leash,” Heinz remembers.

When Lucille Stickel died in 2007, the current director of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Judd Howell, said a “soul has moved from individual to icon.  We can mourn her passing but not her legacy.”