William F. “Bill” Hailey, 1930-2010

Bill Hailey
Bill Hailey

On January 26, 2010, Arkansas lost one its most devoted conservationists. William F. “Bill” Hailey of Little Rock, a long-time employee of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

In 1957, after serving as a Marine in Korea, Bill was one of eight men chosen to become conservation agents for the Missouri Dept. of Conservation (MDC). He was assigned to an 860-square-mile piece of Ozark Mountains territory and lived in the town of Potosi—an ideal location, he felt, because the area was laced with streams full of smallmouth bass. In his off-hours, Bill enjoyed fishing and canoeing.

Soon after, Bill met the former Goldie Lee Wilson, a young lady teaching eight grades of school children in a one-room schoolhouse in Berryman. They were wed on July 10, 1960 and never parted.

Bill’s marriage to a local girl required him to move, and he was reassigned to Carthage in Jasper County. His salary that year was $3,780. “We basically started with nothing,” he said.

What Bill did possess was an intense passion for his job as conservation officer. He was enforcing game and fish laws in the field practically every day year-round. And to improve relations with local residents, he took on additional tasks. He wrote weekly newspaper columns for the Carthage Evening Press, the Joplin Globe, the Sarcoxie News and the Golden City Herald, and made regular appearances on local TV and radio programs. He also was a regular guest speaker at every civic club group in his assigned area, and later an active member (and president) of the Lion’s Club.

Bill’s work as a conservation agent opened up a world of interesting opportunities. He was part of a bird-banding team that spent weeks in Alberta, Canada, working with waterfowl, and was responsible for annual censuses of prairie chickens on Missouri’s virgin prairies. These tasks led to a lifelong love of birding, a passion he often indulged.

Bill later worked in Missouri’s Ripley and Ozark counties. Then, in 1981, he retired from his decades-long career with the MDC and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where he became assistant chief of Game & Fish Commission’s Enforcement Division and head of the state’s new Boating Education program. Soon after he was promoted to Education Division chief where he helped launch the state’s fledgling Hunter Education program.

While Bill excelled in his work in education, the wildlife law enforcement tasks he had been involved with more than three decades were still his primary love. When his friend David Herman became chief of the Enforcement Division, Bill accepted Herman’s offer to come back to his former job as assistant chief of the division. During the months that followed, Bill continued as he always had—working diligently to ensure that wildlife laws were enforced fairly yet firmly. And through it all, from the time he became a conservation agent in 1957 until he retired almost 40 years later, he was guided by the principles of our nation’s great conservationists, including people such as Harold Alexander in Arkansas and Werner Nagel in Missouri who were among his many close friends. In particular, he was a student of Aldo Leopold, one of the foremost conservationists of the 20th century, and Bill was constantly guided by the principles Leopold laid out in his Sand County Almanac, a book Bill made required reading for every cadet who went through the AGFC’s enforcement academy. “Conservation is a state of harmony between man and land,” Leopold wrote. That principle guided Bill Hailey as he supervised, taught and mentored people of all stripes who joined the ranks of state wildlife agency employees.

During the years Bill worked at the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and Missouri Department of Conservation, he was a respected leader who dedicated himself to working with a wide variety of conservation groups. He was a longtime member of the Wildlife Society (serving as president of both the Missouri and Arkansas chapters), served for many years on the board of directors of the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas, was secretary/treasurer of the Law Enforcement section of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for 10 years and a longtime member of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. In addition, he annually taught wildlife law enforcement to students of the national Wildlife Management Short Course at Colorado State University, he was long-time secretary for the Fraternal Order of Police, an active member of his church, and served as AGFC liaison to the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services.

Bill worked as assistant enforcement chief until 1993, when finally, after a career that spanned 36 years at two state wildlife agencies, he decided it was time to retire. Retirement didn’t suit him, however. A month after leaving the AGFC, he returned and started working part-time for the Wildlife Management Division, taking on a variety of tasks that included everything from managing fur-buyer records to answering questions from the public about wildlife and wildlife laws. During this period, too, he served as a mentor for many young employees, teaching them lessons about conservation and human nature that no doubt will serve them well throughout their careers. Never has there been a greater teacher of conservation and ethics than this gentleman who taught by example as well as by words.

Submitted by Keith Sutton…… Bill’s long time friend and coworker.

The Snipe 2003 to 2009


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