Manus “Jack” Fish, Jr. (1928-2010) received the Pugsley Medal in 1983 “in recognition of his [ultimately] 36 years of dedicated and exceptional service to the National Park Service's Capital Region.” After high school, Fish served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1948, before enrolling at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from which he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in civil engineering.
Fish grew up with an appreciation for the outdoors and recreation. His father, a high school baseball and football coach, instilled in him an interest in sports. For many summers he participated in all the activities at his parents' summer boarding camp for boys along the New Jersey shore – swimming, boxing, track, etc. Sports and the outdoors became second nature to him, and he naturally followed in his adult life the things he liked doing best. He coached track, football, basketball, and softball to children of all ages. Most of his teams included one or two of his own 12 children, while his wife kept the family and their home on an “even keel.”
Fish joined the NPS in 1952 as a civil engineer in the Office of Design and Construction in Washington, D.C. He moved on to become assistant chief and then chief of the Branch of Engineering (1962-65); chief of Development Planning and Control (1965-70); and deputy regional director of the National Capital Region (1970-73). As deputy regional director, Fish made maintenance and preservation a priority for the Washington area's long-neglected parks, historic monuments, buildings and canals.
From 1973 until his retirement in 1988, Fish was regional director of the National Capital Region. This is the NPS's most complex park region and arguably the most important metropolitan park system in the nation. As director, Fish oversaw 61,000 acres of parklands that stretched far beyond Washington, to the end of the 185-mile C&O Canal in Western Maryland; to the Civil War battlefields of Manassas, Virginia; to Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland; and to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, West Virginia. However, perhaps the most significant responsibilities related to the capital city's monuments and memorials; its parks, parkways, gardens, lakes, and trees; and two Presidential “parks,” The White House and Camp David.
As manager of this region, Fish presided over 3,000 employees, including 650 officers of the U.S. Park Police, a diversified metropolitan police unit. In addition, Fish's office approved more than 1,000 permits annually for demonstrations that might involve one person carrying a sign in front of the White House or thousands gathering on the Washington Monument grounds to plead their cause in a political issue. The annual operating budget was $100 million, and this was supplemented by annual construction and acquisition budgets of $15 million and $10 million, respectively. During his NPS career, Fish represented the Secretary of the Interior Department and the Director of the NPS on many boards and commissions including the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees; Wolf Trap Foundation; Ford's Theatre Society; and the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation .
Members of Congress and senior members of the administration view many of these facilities daily, and all feel entitled to call the regional director if something is amiss. Hence, the position is widely regarded as a “fishbowl assignment.” Despite the extraordinary pressures of the job, Fish was described by Senator John Warner as a “tireless worker,” and by his peers as a “modest and diplomatic man” who was calm, smiling, and unfailingly humble. The New York Times reported he was “capable of making the job of tending the nation's most visible parkland seem no less exacting than the care of his own backyard. You keep the litter picked up and take care of the trees. You keep it looking good and do the best you can.”
In 1978, he received the Interior Department's Distinguished Service Award for his efforts to make permanent park improvements in Washington, D.C. as part of the nation's bicentennial celebrations and the congressional Excalibur Award (1985) for his “constant efforts to maintain a high quality of beautification in the nation's capital and a high level of visitor services for the millions who visit the nation's capital annually; to provide administrative and support services to the White House and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; and to rebuild Wolf Trap Farm's Filene Center.”
Fish was an engineer who learned to love trees. His maxim was, “when a tree is lost we put another one back in.” Perhaps his most enduring legacy was the planting of 150,000 trees during his tenure as regional director, along with seasonal plantings of millions of spring and summer flowers which continued the program started by Lady Bird Johnson's beautification campaign. Among other main accomplishments were his contributions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which was built during this time; expansion of the Manassas battlefield site; development of Constitution Gardens; incorporation of unobtrusive handicapped entrances into many of the monuments; and the construction of an ice rink and outdoor sports complex along the Anacosta River. The job entailed planning for major events along the “Mall” – the area stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial – that caters to many thousands of people including the 4th of July fireworks, a Pope's visit, popular concerts, and the popular Smithsonian National Park Service Folklife Festival.
At the time of his retirement, Representative Bruce Vento, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, on the House floor said:
Jack Fish has shown great leadership and perseverance in protecting the national parks and the national image they project. He has consistently inspired those who work for him and with him. Parks staff know well that Jack Fish can show up in the parks at any time. Whether riding horseback along the C&O Canal in the early morning or looking at the archeology of the prehistoric Indian sites or the plants of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. He has worked to make sure that the parks of this Capital City complement the very reason for having a Capital City. I commend him for the excellent job he has done.
Following his retirement from the NPS he was active in the business community serving for ten years as vice president for the West Group, a major real estate development firm in Northern Virginia. During this time, Fish served as chairman of the Parks & History Association, which operates 25 book stores in National Parks; and of Guest Services, Inc., a public benefit corporation in the hospitality management business; and as a board member of the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. He was also a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Hodge, P. (1978, September 28). Jack Fish's greenscene: 50,000 acres of historic visits. The Washington Post.
Rimer,S. (1985, June 9). Tending the capital's parks. New York Times.
Wheeler, L. (1988, August 10). Park director has other fish to fry. The Washington Post.