Memorable Manitobans: Robert William “Bob” Nero (1922-2023)
Born at Racine, Wisconsin on 26 December 1922, his early childhood was spent at an orphanage and later on a farm near Milwaukee. During the Second World War, he dropped out of university to enlist in American military forces, stationed in the South Pacific. Returning to Milwaukee, he married Ruth Hoenecke (c1929-2010) in 1948 and they had five children, some of which they named for trees.
He completed MA (1950) and PhD (1955) degrees in zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In July 1955, the family moved to Regina, Saskatchewan where he was appointed Assistant Director of the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History (now the Royal Saskatchewan Museum). He served as Vice-President and President (1957-1961) of the Saskatchewan Natural History Society and was Assistant Editor and Editor of its journal, The Blue Jay (1963-1976).
After a period at the University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus; now the University of Regina), he moved to Winnipeg in 1969 to become Chief of the Natural History Division at the newly-established Manitoba Museum. He was instrumental in developing several galleries at the museum. In 1970, he joined the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources where he was Writer-Naturalist (1970-1971), Wetlands Developments Specialist (1971-1979), and Nongame Wildlife Specialist (1980-1991) until retirement in 1991. Over a 23-year period, he travelled extensively with a tame Great Gray Owl that had been found injured and starving in an abandoned nest in southeastern Manitoba. He played a major role in having the owl species declared Manitoba’s official provincial bird. In retirement, Nero was given the designation of Naturalist to the Government of Manitoba.
He wrote over 200 scientific papers in wildlife biology and archaeology, and several books including Birds of the Lake Athabaska Region, Saskatchewan (1963), The Great White Bears (1971), Birds of Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan (1971), The Great Gray Owl: Phantom of the Northern Forest (1980), Manitoba's Big Cat: The Story of the Cougar in Manitoba (1982, with Robert E. Wrigley), Redwings: A Smithsonian Nature Book (1984), Woman by the Shore and Other Poems: A Tribute to Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1990), Mulch Pile and Other Poems (1993), Lady Grayl: Owl With a Mission (1994), Spring Again and Other Poems (1997), The Site: A Personal Odyssey (2001), and Growing Old Together And Other Poems (2005).
In recognition of his many contributions, Nero was the first recipient of the Ernest Thompson Seton Medal from the Manitoba Naturalists Society (1981), and he received a Certificate of Merit from Environment Canada (1985), Honorary Membership in the Ottawa Field-Naturalist Club (1987), and the Doris Huestis Speirs Award from the Society of Canadian Ornithologists (1995).
He died at Winnipeg on 23 January 2023.
“Friends to salute retiring Nero,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 September 1991, page 72.
“Good storytelling and useful facts,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 February 1995, page 33.
“Meditations of an amateur archeologist,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 December 2001, page 33.
“Bird educated thousands about conservation,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 October 2005, page 23.
Obituary [Ruth Nero], Winnipeg Free Press, 28 June 2010.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 28 January 2023.
“Robert William Nero, 1922-2023” by M. Ross Lein, Spencer G. Sealy, James R. Duncan, Ornithology, Volume 140, pages 1-3, 2023.
We thank Jonathan Scarth, Robert Wrigley, Christian Artuso, and Dean Berezanski for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 12 May 2023