Richard Wheeler

Feb 14, 2019

Richard Cross Wheeler passed away in Boston on Jan. 31. Although his roots have always been in New England, Dick spent his extraordinary 88 years traveling all over the world. In his youth, he and his brothers hunted and fished for their supper in the marshes of Marshfield. As a young adult, he received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, where he was a competitive swimmer. After graduating from Harvard, he joined the U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team—now known as the "Navy Seals" (formerly known as "Frogmen"). In 1953, he served in the Korean War, then returned to Harvard to get his Master's Degree. Dick devoted his adult life to education and conservation, such as training Peace Corps volunteers in Fiji, setting up turtle hatcheries across the South Pacific and teaching at secondary schools across the country. Dick was a teacher and headmaster at Deerfield Academy, Wayneflete Academy, Catalina Island School and Foxcroft School. He later served as Director of the U.S.S. Constitution Museum and Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.  

In his later years, Dick was passionate and outspoken about the human impact to our planet, and relentless in his efforts to save the oceans, fisheries and wildlife of the Northeast Atlantic. At the age of 61, Dick kayaked almost 1500 miles, from Newfoundland to Buzzard's Bay, retracing the migratory path of an extinct bird, the Great Auk. NOVA later produced a film about his journey, called "The Haunted Cry of a Long Gone Bird." In 1998, Dick was named one of Time Magazine's "Heroes of the Planet," and in 2010 he was featured in the historic photographic collection, "Face to Face: Ocean Portraits." In his living will, he asked to be remembered in the following way:  "He tried to raise awareness that the earth was not put here for human beings to exploit."

In addition to his efforts to save the ocean's animals, Dick was also a steward of many animals of his own, including countless ducks, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, guinea hens, rabbits, goats, hedgehogs, cats, a  raccoon, parrot, tortoise and most of all—his beloved dogs. In his final moments, Dick was smiling and peaceful, surrounded by many family members.

He will be forever missed by those who survive him, including his wife Sandra Wheeler, daughters Molly Bolster and Jennifer Wheeler, sons Peter Bessey and Michael Bessey, step-daughters Letitia Macilwraith and Helen Robbins, grandchildren Ellie Bolster, Carl Bolster, Lauren Bessey, and Arya Robbins, and many nephews and nieces (children of his late brothers, Robert and John Wheeler). 

A memorial gathering will be held in the spring.

Arrangements by Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Wareham. To leave a message of condolence, visit: