Ned Brinkley
1965 - 2020
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Ned Brinkley spent much of his life in search of the world's most elusive winged creatures - green-and-crimson-splashed Prince Ruspoli's turacos in the scrubby woodlands of Ethiopia, the fierce gyrfalcons of Iceland's tundra, red-billed tropicbirds soaring over the balmy Gulf Stream off North Carolina. They were among the thousands of species on Ned's life list.

Ned was on a trail in southern Ecuador in quest of another "lifer," the endangered Jocotoco antpitta, when he died Nov. 22, 2020. His life of chasing adventures, fighting the good fights and making friends in every corner of the world where he traveled came to an end far too soon, after 55 years.

Ned didn't realize that, in the eyes of the many people who admired and loved him, he was every bit as unique, charming and colorful as the birds he studied and wrote about. When he led birding tours, it was Ned who often left the most lasting impression.

Ned's warmth, wit and generosity were instant identifiers, as was his purposefulness. There seemed to be nothing he set his mind and heart to, that Ned couldn't do well. He was a Jefferson Scholar at the University of Virginia, earned a doctorate in comparative literature and film from Cornell, wrote internationally published bird guides, managed a hotel in his adopted Eastern Shore hometown of Cape Charles, Va.; oversaw the making of exquisite mosaic tiles, and spoke or wrote in seven languages.

He was known to sing Verdi in the field and could talk a streak that left an audience doubled over in laughter. But, more importantly, Ned knew when to listen - for a warbler rustling in the brush or for the screech of a petrel over the ocean, or to a friend or a relative whose spirit was exhausted.

Ned was born on May 4, 1965, in Arlington, Va., to Carole Rae Kazokas, and Arthur Joseph Venturo. A few weeks later, he was adopted by Clifton Stanworth Brinkley and Catherine MacDonald Lee Brinkley of Norfolk, Va. They named him Edward Stanley Brinkley II, after his new father's father, and raised him in their home on Mowbray Arch. The couple later adopted Ned's sister, now Mary Seddon Brinkley Webster.

Ned was a rambunctious and endlessly curious child - a voracious reader of classic literature and a lover (like his father) of saltwater adventures. When his cousins crowded toward the sweets at Thanksgiving, young Ned danced around them to reach the raw oysters. According to his biography for Field Guides, a touring company that employed him for many years, his love of birds began as a 6-year-old when a luminous prothonotary warbler sighted in the Great Dismal Swamp "set the course of his life permanently."

After graduating as the salutatorian of Maury High School in Norfolk, Ned went on to U.Va., where, between studies, he found time for a dozen or more clubs, societies and activist groups, including the German and Italian clubs, Students Against Racial Separatism, United Campuses to Prevent Nuclear War and the Lesbian-Gay Student Union.

From U.Va., he headed to Cornell for a master's and Ph.D. He'd already been leading birding field trips since 1980 and was guiding full-blown tours by 1993. Over the years, Ned would write a half-dozen books about birds, including the National Wildlife Federation's 2007 "Field Guide to the Birds of North America." His bibliography lists more than 100 other publications, from journal papers to book reviews, on subjects that sometimes ranged well beyond birds. For 16 years he edited the journal of the American Birding Association. Ned was a prolific blogger as well.

He was known to write in other languages, when called for. A letter he drafted in French to Guadeloupe government officials in 2011 was credited for helping lessen the slaughter of shorebirds on that Caribbean island, including whimbrels that migrate, on their way to Canada, through the Eastern Shore.

Ned's career pursuits included many a side trip. He was the co-owner and operator of Sterling House Bed & Breakfast and, later, general manager of the boutique Hotel Cape Charles. For a few years, he oversaw manufacturing for New Ravenna, a mosaics maker in Exmore, Va. He taught at U.Va. as well.

He easily befriended people of every political persuasion, but was progressively minded. He dedicated his best-known field guide to female mentors. He was there for the 2017 Women's March in Washington.

It was encounters in the field, among birds and people, where he made the most connections.

In a blog post in 2013, Ned described his philosophy on birders: "Most of us are looking for a refuge from negativity, a connection with what's real, what's fascinating, and what's beautiful in the world."

Hundreds of tributes to Ned have been posted on the Facebook sites of birding organizations since Ned's death. At Seabirding, a group that offers North Carolina offshore birdwatching trips. Ned was described as "an incredible friend, amazing leader and irreplaceable scholar…He took flight …in Ecuador, while searching for the perfect bird. We love you."

The feeling was mutual. Ned's last word, scratched into the earth as he lay dying on a slope of the Andes, was "amor."

Ned's parents, both biological and adoptive, passed away before him. He is survived by his sister, Mary Seddon Brinkley Webster, her husband Nathan Paul Webster, nephews Daniel Patrick Webster, Paul Stanworth Webster, and beloved niece Eliza Catherine Webster, for whom Ned served as a guide and mentor. He was especially close to cousin Dorothy Raine Lee and leaves behind treasured friends Brent Harris, Steve Hairfield, and half-sister Susan Deschenes as well as dozens of cousins who adored him and hundreds of others who were proud to call him a friend.

Plans for a celebration of Ned's life coinciding with the spring bird migration through Virginia's Eastern Shore will be announced at a later time. Messages of condolence can be recorded on Legacy.com. Contributions in Ned's name can be made to the Center for Conservation Biology, ccbbirds.org, or your local animal shelter.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Virginian-Pilot on Nov. 29, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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33 entries
February 26, 2021
We just learned of Ned's passing and we are just shocked. We met him when he worked at the Cape Charles Hotel years ago and immediately befriended him. He was the first to welcome us last year when we purchased a house in the Cape and joined us with some wine and great conversation. I thought we would share more good times over the years. I hope you rest in a great place with all the things that made you happy. We will miss you friend.
Ted kozlowski
Friend
February 24, 2021
Ned was an old friend and classmate. We grew up together and while we lost touch for some time, we reconnected years ago as friends on Facebook. He showed up unexpectedly at my mother's funeral and seeing a friendly face from the past was one of the most touching things I remember about that day. Ned was not just brilliant, he was thoughtful and he was dear. I feel his loss deeply, not just as his friend, but because I know how his kind actions touched others in so many ways. Sending my deepest condolences to Mary and to all who knew and loved him -
Diana Tyrrell Suchla
Classmate
January 22, 2021
Saddened to read this! What an accomplished man with a great personality. While he truly loved, cared for and praised constant gratitude on his parents, later on in life, he searched for his birth parents. He put birding aside and dedicated time toward this goal, which he achieved. R.I.P. Ned. I was happy to know you and be part of that search. . ❤❤❤
Mary Conrad
Friend
January 8, 2021
ciao, Ned. The birds no longer sing.
liana fleming
Teacher
December 31, 2020
Ned’s story is written so well here. It captured the essence of Ned completely and perfectly. I smiled and I cried as I read it. It was always great to see Ned during our annual Cape Charles visits. We would pick right up with a conversation that we had the year before. Seamlessly. Ned never forgot anything - especially names. He always greeted our dogs by name. Ned was the most gentle of souls. Gentle will always be the word I remember him by. He said so much often without speaking a word. That’s the mark of a gentleman and he was. What a beautiful life. What a wonderful being. What a teacher Ned was.
Jack Russell
Friend
December 20, 2020
Ned - getting to know you and finding out we were cousins led us on an amazing journey thank you so much.
Ginamarie dattilo
Family
December 20, 2020
Ned happily filled a no-show space on our Ethiopia Field Guides tour last year. Although he wasn't officially a leader, he was a dedicated second-in-command with sharp ears and eyes. He was good company and we had lots of fun. He and I shared a preference for Ethiopian coffee during our pit stops and later could laugh about the green pigeon who left a memento on his head in Lallibella. My husband and I had hoped to be able to attend one of his future tours, and although we knew him for a very short time feel a great loss for us and Field Guides.
Terry Harrison
Acquaintance
December 16, 2020
Group of 10 Memorial Trees
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Sympathy Gift courtesy of
Thuraya Weedon
December 16, 2020
During our August shorebird surveys at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in 2018, Ned accompanied us on every one. I could mention his birding acumen and the wonderful camaraderie we shared during those all day 29 mile drives. But I’d like to share one incident that stands out for me. I had just finished driving on the beach, my husband Hal had just left the truck to move plastic cones so I could exit the beach into the parking lot and Ned remarked that I was an excellent beach driver. I put the truck in gear and promptly ran over an orange cone! Boy, did we laugh!
His laughter was wonderful as was he. Will look for you along the beach, Thalassoica!
Joanne Laskowski
Friend
December 9, 2020
I was shocked to hear of Ned's passing. I never met him but shared the same love he had to find his heritage. Every time I pass by the town of Colledimacine (CH) in Italy I think about his family history. From now on Colledimacine will be Ned Brinkley.
Riposa in pace, Ned!
Tiziana Di Nizio
Friend
December 8, 2020
I never met Ned, but felt I knew him through the seasons. He educated me, “in absentia”, about White-tailed Eagle identification. He liked two quite revealing posts on my FB account. One being a photo of a Eastern Cottontail stretching skyward to eat a tiny flower. The other, my hailing Beck’s album “Morning Phase” (mostly a dark album all told), just after it had won a Grammy. A trivial connection at the best of times, but it was during a time while he still seemed to be grieving,...a time when I undoubtedly still was. “Your heart is a drum, beating time with everyone.” Thank you and rest peacefully Ned!
Gerard Phillips
Acquaintance
December 4, 2020
I was deeply saddened to read of Ned’s passing. The Brinkleys were my beautiful, kind next door neighbors on Mowbray Arch for the 12 years that I lived there. I remember Ned, from the time that he was a child, until he went on to UVA as a Jefferson Scholar. As a progressive, I remember being so impressed with his activism. Ned was a sweet, curious and precocious child. He adopted one of the puppies from my dog and named it Jespah. After his mom’s passing, I sent him an email message and received a lovely response. I was deeply impressed reading of his accomplishments, in his obituary. What a life!
Dear Mary, I am so sorry for your profound loss. I will be thinking of you in the coming days.
Judy Vogan Boone
Neighbor
December 3, 2020
a heart-breaking loss
wes and susan brown
Friend
December 1, 2020
Ned was one of the kindest, most inspiring people I have ever met. I will never forget the day when he took me wading out into a marsh to find a Sedge Wren, the wonderful migration flights shared from the Kiptopeke platform, and the many times when I ran into him by happy chance while birding around the Eastern Shore, among other beautiful memories. Ned's incredible knowledge, huge heart, endless curiosity, and great sense of humor will be so missed. Rest in peace, Ned.
Anna Stunkel
Friend
December 1, 2020
Sending love to Ned’s wide web of family and friends. The universe doesn’t give us many people like Ned. Such a great loss. Again, much love to his people.❤
Paige Fillion
Friend
December 1, 2020
Ned was one of the nicest men we have ever known. He was kind and caring, generous in all ways; and we were blessed to have had him in our lives. Ned will be truly missed.
Loretta Petti & Family
Family
December 1, 2020
A light has gone out. Ned changed me forever, from the first weeks that I knew him.
Brooke Vandervelde
Classmate
December 1, 2020
I didn't know Ned but this memoriam speaks of a great spirit and of a man -- a human -- who knew that all of nature is connected and we must cherish, treasure and protect her bounty and her beauty. My thoughts to him and his family -- and to the avian community he served. Lee Halterman, Fredericksburg, VA
H. Lee Halterman
November 30, 2020
As a neighbor in Cape Charles and an amateur birder, I was lucky to get to know Ned somewhat. He was friendly, funny and always willing to share his knowledge. One distinct memory of Ned was during a whimbrel watch. There was a group of us, many with our 8x42 binoculars, waiting to see a flock overhead. "Here comes one" says Ned, and he had already counted the 100 plus whimbrels with his super-powered scope before I could see the smudge of the flock in the sky. Quite an amazing person!
Barbara O'Hare
Neighbor
November 30, 2020
I lived on Rosser Lane in Charlottesville when Ned was teaching in the German department at UVa. One May 4th I ran into him on the Grounds, telling him that I'd been celebrating his birthday that morning with 25-30 singing Cape May Warblers along the very street where he'd lived when he was an undergraduate. He was staggered at the report of such a number of Cape Mays singing from the tulip poplars, lounging as they are wont to do in the large, nectar-rich flowers that almost engulf them. He couldn't free himself to come by that morning, but the following day he parked in front of the house and walked around the neighborhood. He called me later to tell me he was astonished to hear so many on a fifteen-minute walk around the block. From that day onward we celebrated his birthday by checking in with each other on the delightful longevity of Cape Mays! For us May Day was the festive May 4, the anniversary of his birth, of my daughter's marriage, and of that song-inflected plethora of migrating Cape Mays. He never let me forget it.
John Rowlett
Friend
November 30, 2020
I was sitting on the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch platform before sunrise when I read the email about Ned's passing. It's a special place where I've spent time with Ned and other birders watching the spectacular fall bird migration. I always listened carefully to Ned's observations and I learned so much from him, not just about birds, but life's many other issues as well. He was smart, caring and fun to be around. He was a valuable Advisor to the non-profit wildlife organization we were part of. Rest in Peace.
Brian Taber
Friend
November 29, 2020
I worked at Bank of America in Cape Charles and remember Ned coming in. He would always have a smile on his face. When I was anxiously awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, He came into the bank and gave me a book to give to my granddaughter. It was the Reader's Digest Pathfinders Birds. I thought this was the sweetest thing and have treasured it ever since. He wrote an inscription inside to my granddaughter and he said, "For Kaylei, You're living in the prettiest place on God's green earth for watching the birds. Bless you." I am so sad to hear this but , Ned, I hope you are forever watching the birds. Bless you.
Patty Bailey
Friend
November 29, 2020
Ned, I knew you were something special back when I met you when we were 17 year olds at a Governor’s School program in Virginia where every person was smart, but you had additional wit, wisdom, and warmth. We lived in the same dorm at UVa and ran around in different groups but you let me rope you into taking a Swahili class with me when the professor said she couldn’t teach just one student. We didn’t have too much contact in the years after college, but when we did we’d fall right back to where we’d left off. I’m so glad Bob (Britt) and I came to visit you in 2013, and will never forget the rollicking tour you gave us, capped by a road trip into the marshes in Eric (Mazur)’s car to witness the whimbrel migration. And a month or two ago, I didn’t know when we spoke on the phone that it would be the last. As always with you, it was a great time. Here’s to a great human. I sure will miss you.
Norie Quintos
Friend
November 29, 2020
I'm sorry to hear of his passing. What a great guy.
Nancy Packard
November 29, 2020
He was a unique and remarkable human being. He always had a smile and kind words for every person he came in contact with. I will always remember him with nothing but good memories. I love you my friend.
Laura Gonzalez
Friend
November 29, 2020
The first time I meet Ned he walked in my office and said we have something in common.I am a professor at UVA and I understand your three sons graduated from there. I need a place to live. At the time I had a small carriage house for lease that he said would be fine.I asked him to send me his resume which he did.The next day I received it and saw that he spoke seven languages. When he came in I said Ned sorry but you are over qualified. He leased the place and we had a long friendship. Several years later he came to me and said I need a office to write a book. I had a small office over looking the Chesapeake Bay which he said would be perfect. Over the years we had contacts in many fields. He would love to come in my Hardware Store and buy Cape Charles hats in many colors to take on his trips and give to friends. The most I saw of Ned were the years he spent at Hotel Cape Charles where he was a gracious host. Of the fifty years I spent in business in Cape Charles I can truly say that Ned brought more to the town than any one I know.
Chip Watson
Friend
November 29, 2020
You will be forever missed dear friend. Thank you for all the encouraging words and hugs when going through hard times. I will miss our talks about the different cultures and travels and aw... how much fun we used to have bartending together. You were special to me and you will be forever in my heart. Fly high dear friend...we will see you in every bird
Teo Cusmina
Friend
November 29, 2020
I did not know him, but how I wish I had. I think Ned and I would’ve shared the philosophy that life is an aesthetic event, live beautifully and die beautifully. What a tragedy though that he has passed. My heart felt sympathy goes out to those close Ned.
Robert King
Acquaintance
November 29, 2020
Ned’s life was a model for all of us to appreciate each other, nature (especially birds), and education. I was a friend of Kate and Stan so I got to know Ned and Mary through them. He was a loving and appreciative son. I used to go to Canada in the summertime. One of the young men there used to come to the Eastern Shore every year to be on a tour with Ned. My deepest condolences and love to Mary and their family. He was the best, taken too soon. With love, adieu. Emily Harkins Filer
Emily Harkins Filer
Friend
November 29, 2020
Ned was a great man, funny, sweet, kind, adventurous, and genuine, I am lucky to have known him.
Jeremy Click
Friend
November 29, 2020
I met Ned Brinkley through the Cape Henry Audubon Society in the late 1970’s when he was a teenager. We participated in many Audubon Christmas Bird Counts together during the 1980’s and 1990’s. One especially stands out in my memory from the late 1990’s. I was Chief Ranger at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach and I gave Ned a ride in the park pick-up truck during the Back Bay Christmas Bird Count. We covered a lot of ground in short order and documented an impressive list of birds. I used to see him at the Kiptopeke Hawk Observatory during the Fall raptor migration. The last time I saw Ned was during the Eastern Shore Birding Festival while I was manning a table for the Nature Conservancy at the Cape Charles Fire Station. He will surely be missed by his many friends. I was glad to have him as a Facebook friend.
Gary M. Williamson
Friend
November 29, 2020
Ned was a wonderful man. Soar like an eagle
Joe Broderick
Friend
November 29, 2020
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
Nancy Kehrer
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