Sunday, April 18, 2010

I knew Mike when he was a professor at UNC in 1973/74

I knew Mike when he was a professor at UNC in 1973/74. I was a new grad
student, recently out of the Army with some years experience as a part time zookeeper. It didn't take long for us to connect. How could I resist a professor with a tiger, jaguar, moon bear, caracals, golden cats, a herd of llamas, pygmy goats, a flock of rheas, and a pack of dogs from dauchsunds to Irish wolfhounds and an English mastif.

A day with Mike was always an adventure. Somedays I'd find a gibbon or spider monkey in his office. Usually wrecked the place good and proper. A visit to the farm always resulted in goats on the roof of the VW Van and a wrestling match with Gregor the Jaguar who was usually collared on a heavy chain in the front yard. Mike said it discouraged salesmen. Having lunch at the farm meant sharing with the dogs. The Wolfhounds would look over your shoulder while you ate to inspect your plate. I remember his stepson making a point with a chicken leg raised over his shoulder. One of the hounds casually reached over and gently sheared it off right at his fingertips. Didn't faze anyone there. Such things were expected at Mike's.

For some reason the only hay stored on the farm at that time was in the house on the tiger island with Gretchen. It seems the moat and fence were constructed and the tiger installed before anyone thought to move the hay.

Well one snowy day Mike decided the LLamas needed some hay. Perhaps it was because they had finally finished eating the jeep and were looking for more.

At any rate who would be dumb enough to cross a very flimsy bridge designed to collapse under too much weight (such as a tiger), grab a bale of hay, run back across the bridge and do it again in a tiger pen? Graduate students, that's who. Mike went first and was playing with Gretchen while Boze (now a successful Dermatologist in Texas) and I ran across the bridge to the house.

Have you ever smelled a bale of hay used as bedding by a tiger? It sticks with you. We hauled out several before Gretchen got curious and left Mike to investigate and we had to quit. Unfortunately even a Jeep eating LLama won't touch tiger scented hay. Every animal was special and every day an adventure at Mike's. In less than a years time I probably gained enough memories and anecdotes to write a book. Just stories on cage cleaning would take a couple of chapters.

I was disappointed at how the other faculty treated Mike and finally had enough of campus politics, both student and staff, and left to go to medical school. The last time I saw Mike was when he came to Louisiana to pick up a Tiger at the local zoo for his farm in 1975. He spent a few hours with us and had an artichoke my wife made just for him.

Between Med school and going back to the Army I completely lost track of Mike until I decided today to see if he was on the web. I am delighted but not surprised to find out what an impression he has made and that his work continues. I am also depressed to know he has died. I really wanted to make contact again and only just now begin to realize what an impression he made 27 years ago.

Jerry Liles


At 1:52 AM, Blogger Nirmal said...

It is great to see Mike with his tigers. I think one of them is Linda the tigress.He was my associate advisor. He was in my thesis committee. But when Dr. Stafford left for Heidelberg, sometime in 1971-72, he was appointed to guide me in his place.In one of the afternoons, he asked me to see him in his farm house. When I went up to him, he showed me some animals in his house. One of them was electric eel.He then took me to his farm where there was a small enclosure. He entered the enclosure and asked me to step in. Just at point of time, my eyes fell on the sitting tigress. I almost froze. Whereupon, he consoled: "she is Linda, a good girl, she won't hurt you". But I preferred to stay outside the fence!


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