Director’s Letter February 2021

The Heart of Gothic

billy barr, subject of the adjoining article, is the beating heart of the RMBL community.  He embodies a lot of what makes Gothic unique.

Empathetic and engaged, he creates a sense of acceptance and inclusiveness.  When I first arrived as a student 30+ years ago and went to his office to pay my bill, billy greeted me, cracked a joke, offered me chocolate, and instantly made me feel at home.   As he comes up on half a century at RMBL, by my reckoning he has done the same with thousands of scientists, students, and community members.

billy is also a living embodiment of discovery.  An inner-city Trenton, New Jersey kid who found his way to Gothic, he literally moved beyond the end of the road.  He is careful to note that after spending a summer doing research in Gothic he went back and finished his degree at Rutgers.  But then he settled into an abandoned mining cabin just north of Gothic.  With no electricity and survival depending upon learning how to navigate complex avalanche terrain, either through boredom, innate curiosity, or necessity, he proved a keen observer and demonstrates there is no one way of being a scientist.  His winter observations of snow and animals have helped scientists and entranced millions across the world.

And billy, along with Gothic, is nothing if not quirky.  Before the internet had taken off, billy was my go to for driving in Los Angeles.  In the early morning hours he’d listen to an AM station out of LA, so he always knew where traffic was backed up and what exits to avoid. I watched billy crystalize and participate in a number of RMBL sports, including Ultimate frisbee, basketball, and volley ball.  But somewhere along the way between BBC broadcasts and Bollywood movies, billy embraced cricket, and Gothic soon followed.  Typically with 4 teams in the summer league, Gothic has one of the largest cricket chapters in North America.

In my years of watching RMBL come into its own and examining other organizations, those that succeed as well as fail, I’ve realized that the magic often emerges at the intersections.  It is not necessarily easy to do one thing really well, but then again, it’s also not necessarily hard if you really put your mind to it.  But, it’s how multiple things come together that make us unique.  Inclusive, focused on discovery, and quirky.  For those that have spent time in Gothic, what better description could there be?  What better place to be?



Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL