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Remembering Elmo Drilling

In early 2021, the world lost a conservationist who lived and breathed sustainability and conservation, Michael “Elmo” Drilling.

Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Mr. Drilling worked for the Peace Corps, USAID, and served as PRCF Director from 1996-2014, later rejoining PRCF from 2018 until his passing. His work took him from the jungles of Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, to the swamps of Mindanao in the Philippines, and to Vietnam and beyond.

Elmo loved adventure and enjoyed traveling; especially his stints in the U.S. Peace Corps. He had a generous heart and was known for his positivity, sense of humor, kindness, and love of the Buffalo Bills football team. He specialized in agroforestry work, and liked nothing more than to share his knowledge.

A friend and colleague Anders Pederson recalled: “His career was centered on agroforestry and capacity building in developing countries. His devotion was conservation, environment, and rural development; Elmo lived his passion and shared his lifestyle with a laid-back, unhurried attitude and ‘hands-on’ education. His proactive, entertaining, and engaging style made us laugh and smile, and inspired us and stakeholders at all levels. He had a pragmatic and thoughtful approach leaving no one behind, nor letting anyone down.”

Patrick Durst, a friend and colleague of 43 years, remarked on Elmo’s “meticulous approaches to conservation and agroforestry development. Elmo recognized the intricacy of healthy ecosystems and, rather than trivialize or ignore that complexity, he reveled in it.” His special talent, however, was in patiently sharing his vast practical field knowledge and teaching it to others.  Elmo was a consummate “field forester” and was happiest teaching kids the proper way to plant trees, introducing people to the potential of assisted natural regeneration, and helping farmers increase their yields while strengthening the sustainability of their operations.”

As Dai Peters recalls, “We lost a good friend and a very unique, original thinker.  Our academic advisor used to say ’Elmo marches to a drumbeat that the rest of us do not hear.’

Elmo providing instruction in agroforestry to local farming communities in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of his family.

We will all miss him dearly.” Fernando Potess added: “I, like many others, will miss his sense of humor, technical knowledge, and overall concern for the environment and people. I always thought that Elmo was not only a conservationist, but that he lived conservation; one of the many things I learned from him.”

Elmo passed away, at the age of 66, while doing what he loved most: working in the forest. He is dearly missed by his family and friends with whom he shared visions, laughter, music, and copious sips of beer.

You can read Dr. Gregory McCann’s full tribute here, while his family’s obituary can be found online.

3 Responses

  1. Scott- Thank you for the thoughtful feature post on my brother “Elmo.” You captured him perfectly- it was so nice to read the kind words.

  2. I was good friends with Elmo when I was a PCV in The Philippines. I shared a room with him at Santos Pensione house a number of times. I have been thinking about him lately and did a Google search and found this. Thanks for creating it. He was a good guy and love his bee polen in the morning. R.I.P. my friend.

  3. Rest in eternally my dearest friend…I can’t forget you as you are always in my heart .how can I forget…your so nice to me the time..your here in Philippine …in Greenhills east…
    You will always share to me whatever you have…your radio..my tears flowing down when I read this news of your passing…I love you…rest eternally
    “Rose”

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