Rex Land (August 5, 1927 - October 25, 2013)
Rex was working with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission when the waterhyacinth control program – the first aquatic weed control program in Florida and probably in the nation- was initiated. Airboats were being invented using kitchen chairs for seats and various other readily available materials. Prop guards, of course, had not even been thought of. Waterhyacinths were virtually closing off most of the lakes, rivers and other water bodies with no effective control method in sight. Rex and other FGFWFC “game wardens” worked law enforcement, game management or fish management as needed, but became “weed wardens” as the waterhyacinth problem demanded more attention.
Thanks to airboats, 2,4-D and men like Rex who were willing to tackle such a problem, this first “million dollar” aquatic problem was definitely subdued by the time I met Rex. At that time, he was the supervisor of several airboat spray crews manned by the first “nozzle heads”: I found these men – and especially Rex – to be a source of wisdom, knowledge and history that was seldom found in written form, but was extremely valuable to those new to the field who were puzzled by things that were hard to understand. A brief historic review from Rex would usually make perfect sense.
For instance, what happened to Lake Apopka? And, for that matter, many others?
How his wisdom, observation and insight sometimes enlightened degreed professionals became obvious on an occasion when biologists were discussing the effects of hydrilla in Orange Lake on fish condition, other factors and how to conduct studies. Although the near-solid hydrilla cover had drastically changed the lake, Rex and others were already collecting creel census data using airboats. Rex commented, “Well, I can tell you, when these ‘cane pole’ fishermen are throwing the brim back, something is definitely wrong and the K factors are obviously not good!” Many fisheries biologists were opposed to spray programs, but could it be that hydrilla management and control was the answer?
I could go on, but I’ll end with one event that illustrates how he saved the Commission and me from public embarrassment. We were acclimatizing a large load of grass carp to be stocked in Lake Conway and this was a media event. When he opened the tank, a strange look came on his face and he quietly let me know that many of the fish were dead. Rex asked, “What do you want to do?” My reply and prayer was “Try to only stock live ones’: Miracle of miracles, Rex did it – he returned the dead ones to the hatchery and everyone was happy, especially Rex and me.
Words to describe or capture the essence of Rex Land seem to elude my often-slow recall; however, last evening in a church service a teaching on the Fruit of the Spirit listed the following: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These, I believe, Rex had and shared throughout the time we worked together, perhaps even from his early years. Rex Land was reliable, knowledgeable, level-headed, cool – all in all, the ideal right-hand man.
Florida is and will remain a better place to live because of the time God blessed us with this man who never sought the limelight, but faithfully and cheerfully worked diligently throughout his long career in aquatic weed control. Farewell, Rex- we’ll miss you!