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COOPERSTOWN – Noted author and environmentalist Robert H. Boyle passed away May 19, 2017, after a long battle with cancer. He was 88 years old.

Born on Aug. 21, 1928 in Brooklyn, he was the son of Elizabeth Coundouris Boyle and Robert Hamilton Boyle. He attended the Loyola School in Manhattan and then Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. After graduating from Trinity in 1949 with a BA in history, he studied history at Yale University.

BB1Robert H. Boyle, 1928-2017

He had completed a master’s degree and was en route to a scheduled PhD when he was called to active duty by the Marine Corps. He was a member of the First Basic Special Class of 1950 and served as a second lieutenant in the Atlantic fleet during the Korean Conflict.

Upon completion of his obligation to the Marine Corps, he traveled to Europe where he studied at the Universitat de Barcelona. In Spain, he also enjoyed a brief fling as a professional baseball pitcher. This experience formed the basis for his first published work – a recollection of the adventure for The Atlantic Monthly.

Screen Shot 2017 06 03 at 04.34.25Sports Illustrated reporter Bob Boyle with Muhammad Ali in 1966, when the boxer was resisting being drafted into the Army.

Upon his return to the United States in 1953, he became a writer for the United Press. Then in September 1954, he began work as a writer/reporter for Time Inc., where he wrote for Time, Life and the company’s newest publication, Sports Illustrated.

His fields of coverage ranged from Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the U.S. in 1959 to heavyweight boxing and professional football. His 1965 cover story for Sports Illustrated on Sonny Werblin and the upstart New York Jets drafting of Joe Namath was where the quarterback received the nickname “Broadway Joe.”

Boyle’s true calling was the outdoors. He first became involved in the environment in 1959. As Sports Illustrated’s West Coast correspondent, Boyle was hunting butterflies with Vladimir Nabokov when he exposed a plot to lay waste to northern California’s Tule Lake Irrigation District, one of the world’s most important habitats for migratory waterfowl. Returning to New York in 1960 as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, he wrote about a variety of subjects, as well as pioneering articles on the state of the environment.

In 1966, after exposing extensive fish kills caused by discharge into the Hudson by Consolidated Edison at its Indian Point nuclear plant, he founded the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association. Based on the Federal Refuse Act of 1899, a forgotten law he unearthed, the HRFA led the first cases in federal court to result in substantial fines being levied against water polluters.

He also played a vital role in the legal case against Consolidated Edison’s plans to build a nuclear plant at Storm King Mountain. The action became the basis of environmental law in the United States by establishing the right of citizens to sue the government to protect natural resources.

While doing research for his 1969 book, “The Hudson River; A Natural and Unnatural History,” he collected fishes from the river for the American Museum of Natural History and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under scientific license.

BB2Boyle, right, at a Hudson Riverkeeper meeting in 1966.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, he helped the National Audubon Society assume management of Constitution Marsh near Garrison and acquire RamsHorn Marsh near Catskill Creek. At the time, New York City was looking for alternatives to landfills on Staten Island, and the shallow waters of Constitution Marsh across the Hudson from the United States Military Academy at West Point were on the city’s shortlist for such a toxic use.

In 1970, Boyle became the first person to discover PCB contamination of fishes in North America, including in the striped bass he caught from the Hudson, this was published by Sports Illustrated in “Poison Roams Our Coastal Seas.”

In 1980, while negotiating the end to the protracted legal case involving Storm King and other power plant issues, he originated the idea of an independent Hudson River Foundation for Science & Environmental Research and successfully insisted the utilities that had abused the river endow it before he would agree to settle lawsuits brought by the HRFA. The Hudson was the first river in the world with a significant endowment.

In 1982, he adapted the British concept of “keepers” on private trout and salmon rivers by appointing a “Hudson Riverkeeper” to act in the public interest. Devised from the start to be a tax-deductible method of financing the defense of the environment, his concept has since spread to other water bodies throughout the United States and abroad.

In the 1980s, faced with yet another threat to striped bass, he led the HRFA’s intervention in the lawsuit that halted the Westway Project, a proposed $4 billion Manhattan highway and real estate plan backed by two presidents (Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan), two senators (Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Al D’Amato), two governors (Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo) and one mayor (Edward I. Koch).

Later he initiated and served as a co-chairman of the 1994 International Conference on Sturgeon Conservation and Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History.

ln 2004 as the delegate of the Finnegans Wake Society of New York, Boyle travelled to Dublin to the Bloomsday 100th Anniversary where he presented his thesis that rivers, fishes, and fishing constitute the major theme of James Joyce’s “Wake,” the most inexplicable novel ever written.

BB4Boyle discusses environmental challenges presented by windmills with Doug Delong at a Cherry Valley hearing in 2007. (

After his retirement from Sports Illustrated, he continued to pursue his many interests and wrote for the New Yorker, Barron’s, Audubon, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and other publications. He was also the author of many books. In addition to his Hudson book, his other works include “Sport, Mirror of American Life” (1963); “The Water Hustlers” (1971) with John Graves and T. H. Watkins, in which he dealt with the history, pollution and future of New York City’s water supply; “Malignant Neglect” (1979), about the known or suspected causes of cancer in the environment with the Environmental Defense Fund; “At the Top of Their Game – Profiles from Sports Illustrated of Remarkable Sportsmen and Experts, Champions and Men of Gusto” (1983); and “Acid Rain” (1983) with his son Alexander.

As early as 1987, Boyle wrote a lengthy SI article about global warming, and in 1990 he co-authored the book “Dead Heat, The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect” with Michael Oppenheimer. Skeptics abounded, including Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “Why make such hyped-up claims?” Boyle’s most recent book is “Dapping, the Exciting Way of Fishing Flies that Fly Quiver and Jump,” with photographs by his wife Kathryn Belous-Boyle.

Honors included the Trinity College Alumni Award 1970, multiple Theodore Gordon Flyfishers Salmon Award (1964 and 1971), Hudson River Heritage Dr. Stockman Award in 1974 for untiring efforts in the cause for ecology, Outdoor Life’s Conservationist of the Year Award in 1975, the 1981 Conservation Communication Award of the National Wildlife Federation, a commendation by the New York State Legislature in 1996, the establishment in 1996 of the Robert H. Boyle Environmental Advocacy Center at Pace University Law School, and the William E. Ricker Resource Conservation Award of the American Fisheries Society in 1998, the same year that Audubon magazine named him one of the 100 Champions of Conservation for the Twentieth Century.


At the time of his death, he was completing a follow-up to his earlier Hudson book. Boyle saw climate change as the overarching issue threatening life on earth. In the new work, he was using the Hudson as a microcosm of the greater world to discuss changes in climate, science, policy, and politics over the past 50 years and how the consequent challenges should be addressed. In tandem with this effort, he was working to create a world center in planetary stewardship to be attended by scientists, academicians, policy makers and religious figures to answer the issues and repercussions of climate change.

Robert H. Boyle was predeceased by his first wife Jane Crosby Sanger in 1975. Survivors include his second wife, Kathryn Belous-Boyle, a daughter Stephanie Boyle Mays, two sons, Peter Boyle and Alexander Boyle, as well as three grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for later this year.

Robert H. Boyle 1928 - 2017

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