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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Audubon Society official new Bishop Museum head

By Yasmin Anwar
Advertiser Staff Writer

William Yancey Brown, a Clinton administration science adviser and politically savvy environmentalist with a profound nostalgia for Hawai'i wildlife, is the new head of the Bishop Museum.

"I know ... views will often be in conflict with one another. But I think I'm pretty good at finding ways to bring different views together," nw Bishop Museum director Dr. William Brown said.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Yesterday's announcement of Brown's selection comes nearly two months after the departure of W. Donald Duckworth, who led the Pacific research center and showcase with its nearly 2 million artifacts for 16 years.

Duckworth, whose tenure was not without controversy, retired June 30. Brown takes over Oct. 1. He most recently worked as vice president for science policy and director of the Living Oceans Program for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

During a short visit to introduce himself to museum staff yesterday, the 53-year-old Maryland resident and California native outlined a number of ideas for the 112-year-old institution to grow beyond the 14-acre Kalihi campus.

He said he hopes to raise the museum's global profile and draw more involvement from the Native Hawaiian community and move forward with expansion plans that may include a science center in Kaka'ako.

"I'm very interested in expanding facilities for interactive education and learning," he said. "It could happen at a new site, and I need to spend time on the details of that before I start talking about it too much."

First, Brown said, he needs to listen and learn: "I want to open the doors here. I want people to know they can come talk to me — and I don't care if they're a vice president or they keep the grounds — I want to know what they think, and I want them to feel like they're part of the team."

Experience counts

Brown's identity has been kept confidential since his selection last month. Mark Polivka, chairman of the museum's board of directors, declined to disclose Brown's salary or the identities of other candidates on the short list of finalists.

The search consultant was Heidrick and Struggles, a Chicago-based head-hunting group, which also recruited University of Hawai'i president Evan Dobelle.

The seven-member committee chose Brown from a pool of 178 applicants that had been narrowed to a half-dozen finalists.

"We just felt his breadth of experience in nonprofit world as well as experience in Washington with the government would be a good thing for the Bishop Museum," said Mark Polivka, chairman of the museum's board of directors.

Brown earned a Ph.D. from UH and later served in the Clinton administration as a science adviser.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ethnobotanist Isabella Abbott, a member of the search committee, said Brown stood out because of his diverse experience, political and environmental connections and warmth.

"He's sharp and well connected. He brings a fresh outlook," said Abbott, professor emerita at the University of Hawai'i and Stanford University.

Abbott said she expects Brown to be outgoing. Those who have worked with him on the Mainland say her hunch is on target.

"He is very personable, charming, an intellectual scamp," said Gordon Brown, the invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Department of Interior.

"He has the ability to analyze problems way past the surface," he said

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said she is heartened that the museum's commitment to the preservation of Native Hawaiian culture will continue under Brown's leadership.

"It's good this new director is clear at the outset about the role of the Hawaiian people," Apoliona said.

The private, non-profit institution was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, husband of Bernice Pauahi Bishop as a tribute to her and the Kamehameha family. It was designated a "state museum" by the Hawai'i Legislature in 1988.

Success and controversy

Under the leadership of Duckworth, the museum became more accessible to the public, but also suffered major cutbacks, including layoffs that alienated many of its employees.

Duckworth was recruited from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 1984, where he started his career as an intern in the division of insects.

Duckworth organized shows on dinosaurs and other attractions. However, the institution drew criticism last year for releasing rare Hawaiian artifacts to the Hawaiian organization, Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei.

The museum has several sources of money, with visitor ticket sales making up 11 percent of revenues, said Ruth Ann Becker, a public relations executive representing the museum.

Brown was born in Artesia, Calif., in 1948. His father was in the military, and they lived for a year in Japan. He graduated from high school in Brazil. He is a graduate of University of Virginia, and of Johns Hopkins University, where he received a masters degree.

Building the future

Brown first came to Hawai'i in the early 1970s as a National Science Foundation fellow and studied the ecology of sea birds on Manana Island. He graduated from the University of Hawai'i with a Ph.D. in zoology in 1973.

After teaching biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Brown went on to Harvard Law School. Armed with a law degree, he moved to Washington to combine science and politics. He served as executive secretary of the U.S. Endangered Species Authority and was a senior scientist and attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.

He then crossed over to the corporate world and became an executive for the nation's largest trash hauler, Waste Management Inc., where he sought to make the company more environmentally friendly.

After nine years with Waste Management, he returned to the conservation arena at the World Wildlife Fund. In 1997, he rose to the post of science adviser to U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

As for his latest move to the Bishop Museum, Brown says he will draw from his past experiences, and network with his vast array of contacts. He wants the museum to partner with other research institutions such as Stanford University and become "a leader in science issues."

He anticipates at least a year of discussions about the museum's future, and faces a steep learning curve.

"It is absolutely clear that the first thing I need to do in this job is listen to a lot of people who will have all sorts of different views," Brown said. "I know Hawai'i well enough to know that those views will often be in conflict with one another. But I think I'm pretty good at finding ways to bring different views together."