The loss of Will Elliott of Pavilion is still sending shock waves throughout the outdoor fraternity.
At 78, he still had plenty of hunting and fishing plans on his outdoor calendar, especially with his wife Jean, who had recently retired. Elliott died peacefully in his favorite recliner last weekend.
Elliott made his mark writing for The Buffalo News for more than 30 years. His first column appeared April 25, 1986, with the headline, “Warmer Weather is Good News for Fishermen.” His last piece appeared in August 2016.
Throughout his writing career, he combined his magnificent knowledge of the outdoors with his command of the English language (he was an English teacher at Depew High School for 33 years). Throw in his uncanny wit and you have a recipe for weaving some intricate details that were both instructional and entertaining.
“I’ve lost my favorite hunting and fishing partner,” Jean said.
One story she shared was the time they were driving back from Buffalo a couple of years ago.
“Will wanted to stop in at Brobeil Marine,” she said. “As we walked in, Fran Brobeil greeted us at the door and said, ‘Are you here to pick up your new boat? Everything is ready.’ The look on my face must have been priceless because everyone in the showroom scattered. I didn’t know anything about it. He had just bought a brand new Polar Kraft with all of the bells and whistles.
"There was no argument from me though. Fishing was a big part of his life. That’s who he was. His response was that he sold his two other boats to get this one and that it will probably be the last boat he owns.”
Through the years, Elliott received significant recognition for his work. He was named to the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame in 2011 and he earned the Conservationist of the Year from the Southtowns Walleye Association in 2016. He was also awarded the Southtowns Walleye Association’s Public Relations Award in 1998, 2003 and 2004.
However, he was a humble man and he preferred to be behind the scenes, lending his expertise and support.
He was president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association (2006-2008) and served on the Board of Directors for the tight-knit group. He had previously served on the board for the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and was a member of other media groups such as the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Professional Outdoor Media Association and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.
He was also caring and compassionate.
“One time we were coming back from a fishing congress meeting and he pulled over to the side of the road,” remembered Joe Fischer, longtime chairman of the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board (a board Elliott previously served on). “He got out of the vehicle and scanned the area. When I asked him what he was doing he said he was just checking on the deer — it had been a severe winter and he was worried about them.”
I have fished and hunted with Will many times through the years. Most recently it was last fall during the NYSOWA 50th Anniversary conference and celebration at Lake George. We fished on Glen Lake, a body of water we had fished together on a decade before in the spring. This was the fall. Will methodically figured out the best spots to target and we were pulling in slab bluegills in no time.
He was a student of the outdoors and perch/panfish fishing was one of his passions. He impressed legendary big-game hunter Jim Zumbo, who was fishing with us that day. Zumbo also has an affection for panfish.
He had a sincere appreciation for writing greats such as Robert Ruark, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold and Henry David Thoreau. His insight into these writers helped him develop his own style as he put his points across to the masses not only in The Buffalo News but other publications such as NY Outdoor News.
Local writer Dave Barus of East Aurora knew Elliott for more than 50 years and often jokingly called him the master of the metaphor. Barus remembered Elliott fondly not only as a school teacher (he first met him his first year teaching at Depew in 1966), but as an instructor of a local fishing class that educated hundreds of angling students through the years. If you didn’t sign up early, you couldn’t get in.
“I’m really going to miss him,” Barus said, “ but I know he will always be at my side and at the side of so many others from the life he shared with so many.”
The outdoors lost a true friend this week, an ambassador to the natural world. So did we. Rest in peace, Will.
To read some of Will Elliott's columns from the Buffalo News, click here.