Dr. Philip Greear, the Idealistic Scientist
By Pierre Howard
After a long and distinguished life of service to Georgia, our dear friend Philip Greear left us in September.
He died in Helen, a hamlet nestled in the Georgia mountains that he loved, surrounded by a loving family. The Georgia Conservancy family feels his loss deeply, not only for his role in our founding and early governance, but for what he stood for throughout his life.
Phil was among a small group of Georgians, led by Jamie Mackay, who decided that it was high time that Georgia had an organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of the natural resources of our state. During the early years of the Georgia Conservancy, he served on our board and took an active part in our work. Those were the days when the Georgia Marshland Protection Act was passed into law, when laws were passed to protect the Chattahoochee River from development, when Panola Mountain and Sweetwater Creek became state parks, when the Okefenokee Swamp became a National Wildlife Refuge and when the wilderness areas of the Georgia mountains were protected for all time.
Phil was a part of all of it, and for that, we salute him.
For many years, Philip Greear taught biology at Shorter University in Rome. From that bully pulpit, he preached his sermons of man’s relationship to the natural world to thousands of students, and he influenced their thinking. His main message, I think, was that homo sapiens is a species that has presumptuously taken control of the natural resources of the Earth, and in doing so, has taken more than its share.
In a recording that is available on the Georgia Conservancy website, Phil lays out in the honeyed accents of the Mountains his philosophy of man’s place in the order of things. He makes it clear his belief that humankind is on an unsustainable path because of our callous disregard for our duty of stewardship of Mother Earth. He believed that the bird singing in the tree has as much right to the water in the stream as we do.
By what right, he asks, do we take it away? When, for example, we blow up mountains created by God Almighty in order to get several trainloads of coal to feed the coal-fired power plants and then dump the dirt and rocks into the nearest stream, we are committing a sin against Nature and destroying the natural systems that sustain all life. Phil believed that if we do not repent and change our ways, we will face a bleak future.
Losing a strong and passionate voice for the causes in which we believe and for which we work is a setback for all of us here at the Conservancy. We take solace in knowing that Phil Greear has influenced a multitude of his students who are out in the world living their lives with his advice in mind.
It is the obligation and mission of the Georgia Conservancy to be true to the ideals that he held dear and to neither flag nor fail in their pursuit. Such a course would be the greatest tribute that we could pay this great man.
It is a course that we will hold to, for Phil and for the children.