Mathias Medal 1997
William Hargis, Jr.
A life-long resident of the Chesapeake Bay area, William Hargis has worked for nearly 40 years to promote the study of marine sciences in Virginia. He served as Director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary for 22 years, during which time he greatly increased student enrollment and personnel. He changed the nature of the institute from a fisheries science laboratory to a multi-disciplinary program. He recruited scientists in the fields of chemical, physical and geological oceanography, engineering, environmental science and microbiology-pathobiology.
He has also served on innumerable state, regional, national and international boards, advisory councils and task forces which established new policies, studies and institutions to work with marine science. In particular, Hargis worked cooperatively for decades with L. Eugene Cronin, who headed up the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) and with Donald W. Pritchard, who directed the Chesapeake Bay Institute (CBI). While VIMS focused on lower Bay issues, CBL focused on the upper Bay and CBI on physical and chemical studies. The three institutions thus pooled their efforts and resources to conduct Bay-wide research that addressed regional issues. For example, following Hurricane Agnes, they coordinated the first system-wide study of a major storm on a North American estuary.
As three of the first four Mathias Medal winners, says Hargis, their awards honor their collaborative efforts as much as their individual contributions. Hargis also credits the times and an emerging public interest in oceanography for some of the success he was able to achieve.
"It was a good time to be in the business," he says. "We at the Institute made major contributions to the understanding of biological phenomena and the coastal environment. Most of my life I have spent around the Bay — my mother was a Tangier Island girl. It's been a great source of satisfaction to me to have worked so closely with the estuary that I love."