Florida State University : Research in Review

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Carr, The Man
Carr, The Man

When he wasn't buried to his hips in some wetland muck or holed up fighting a deadline on a grant proposal or book, Archie Carr could be, in his own way, the life of the party. While not given to being a glad-hander or partier, Carr genuinely enjoyed people, as long as they came in small bunches.

Historian Fritz Davis paints a portrait of Carr as a congenitally shy man who nonetheless possessed genuine charisma and a flair for the dramatic. A small, slender man by today's standards, Carr easily commanded attention from students, faculty colleagues or—when he absolutely had to—government bureaucrats and even heads of state. Paradoxically, Carr avoided the limelight whenever he could, and absolutely abhorred confrontation with anyone on any subject.

Apparently, Carr never fully let go of his taste for the stage—he'd played leading roles in several high-school plays. Once, at a Christmas party in Honduras, Carr showed up dressed as Mr. Hyde, replete with a live vulture on his shoulders. On a field trip collecting tropical fish in Costa Rica, Carr snatched up and promptly ate a specimen completely new to science—just to see the horror in the face of the man standing beside him who'd discovered it.

If Carr had a keen funny-bone, it was matched by a remarkable ear for language—a talent that served him well throughout his career. Through a chance match-up with a Cuban roommate in college, Carr quickly learned Spanish. Years later while teaching in Costa Rica, Carr wowed a radio audience by delivering a live lecture on evolution—in flawless Spanish.

Davis said his study turned up convincing evidence that in his personal life Carr basically toed the line on values that he'd picked up as the son of a Presbyterian minister. Carr had an incredibly strong work ethic, yet was a dedicated, engaged father (of five) and devoted husband.

But Carr was hardly the typical preacher's kid. Although he wasn't known to drink to excess, he loved a good beer. On his treks through the wild beaches of the Caribbean, he also acquired a taste for guaro (sugarcane rum) and sometimes carried a canteen of it on his hip.

Then there was the swearing. How he acquired his salty tongue is a mystery, but Carr could shock people with his profanity-laced outbursts on just about anything. At a large meeting of conservationists in Miami, Carr stunned some conventioneers who mistook him for a "muttering, cursing old hag."

When his most famous book, The Windward Road, appeared in 1956, Carr's accounts of his zeal in eating exotic native foods startled more than a few readers. How could such a great naturalist reconcile dining on monkeys, even manatees, much less the very animal he wrote the book about?

In his preface to the book's reissue by the FSU Press in 1979, Carr solemnly addressed what he called "transitory pangs of conscience" over his gustatory habits as a young man:

“I will say without hesitation that clear green turtle soup is the finest gastronomic contribution of the English people. Giving it up was my greatest sacrifice to the religion of turtle preservation.” —F.S.