By Spike Knuth
Longtime OWAA member John P. “Jack” Randolph, of Colonial Heights, Va., died Oct. 2, 2007, of complications due to colon cancer. Jack was 77. Born in Baltimore, Md., and raised in New Jersey, he told me once that he never knew his father, who had abandoned him and his family. He dropped out of school a number of times to help support his mother and two sisters through trapping. Jack told me that he was mentored by local trappers, anglers and hunters. His desire to learn was fed by all the books he could get ahold of.
In 1948, he graduated from Point Pleasant Beach High School in New Jersey and, at age 17, began working as a game warden. It was at this time that he began to write articles about hunting and fishing for a local newspaper. Later he would write many articles for national publications such as Field & Stream, Gun Digest and Outdoor Life, as well as state and regional publications including Virginia Wildlife.
Randolph served in the Army for 20 years, a career that included a tour in Vietnam. He wrote numerous outdoor articles for Stars and Stripes during his time in the service. He retired in 1970 as a lieutenant colonel. From 1972-78, Jack was appointed to two terms on the board of Virginia Department Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF); he served as chairman in 1977-78.
I met Jack in 1974 when I began working for VDGIF. In the nearly 30 years I was there, no board member was ever as well versed on wildlife, hunting, fishing and trapping as Jack. Not only that, he could put himself in the place of the sportsman and know what was expected from the department because he grew up learning about the outdoors. He had jobs in banking and as a fishing tackle wholesaler during his terms as a board member for VDGIF, and in 1978 he was hired as the department’s deputy assistant director. Jack always bragged that he had started at the top and was working his way down.
Bob Duncan, director of VDGIF’s wildlife division, said that while Randolph was with the department, he was instrumental in getting the state’s Nongame Wildlife Tax Checkoff program underway. The program allows people to donate a portion of income tax refunds to nongame wildlife conservation and, since its inception, has raised more than $8 million. In the late 1980s, Randolph also helped the department establish a computer-based fish and wildlife database with Virginia Tech.
Jack continued “working his way down” VDGIF by resuscitating the department’s fishing report, which was ultimately tagged onto the weekly outdoor report. This was no easy task, as it entailed making more than 30 phone calls every Monday, yet the fishing report was probably the most-read piece of information by sportsmen and media alike. In fact, Randolph still produced the fishing report during his trips to the doctor and up to two weeks before his death.
Jack knew what the sportsman wanted and needed. Once, when he was planning a trip to Africa, he asked me to take over the fishing report during his absence. I refused, claiming I had too much else to do. Jack was still deputy director at the time, and he could have ordered me to do it, but he did not use his position as a club. Oh, he knew how to lead when he was in charge, but as gruff as he may have seemed to some, he led with compassion and understanding.
His son, John Randolph Jr., said his dad was a self-made man. “He didn’t see what he didn’t have. He saw what he could have.” And Jack did it with a lot of hard work – but work he loved.
Jack’s first wife, Catherine Brodie Randolph, died in 1974. He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Chris Bass Randolph, his children John P. Randolph Jr., Patty Randolph, Lani Bass McWilliams, Brian Bass and Christy Bass Harris, plus daughter-in-law Lorraine Bass, six grandchildren and two sisters.
Spike Knuth has worked as a news photographer, a TV and radio show host, and a freelance writer, illustrator, sign painter and commercial artist. His published artwork includes about 80 covers for a variety of publications, hundreds of color and black-and-white illustrations and four state duck stamps. An OWAA member since 1972, Knuth lives in Mechanicsville, Va.