Mass Audubon receives half million-dollar bequest from noted Shrewsbury scientist

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Photo by/Melanie Petrucci
Deborah Cary at Mass Audubon/Broadmeadow Brook in Worcester

By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury/Worcester – The Mass Audubon/Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Conservation Center located at 414 Massasoit Rd. in Worcester recently received a gift of roughly $.5 million from the estate of noted scientist Dr. John Aitkin McCracken of Shrewsbury who passed away at the age of 84 in January of 2019. 

Lasting Legacy

“It’s a pretty nice way to leave a legacy and John was a member of Mass Audubon since 1967 so that’s pretty special,” reflected Deborah Cary, community engagement and coordinator at Mass Audubon. The gift will go towards their $2.5 million endowment.

Cary said that McCracken was always interested in nature, wildlife and bird watching. In 2010 he lent his voice to a study conducted by the sanctuary called “Vision 2010” detailing what should be the focus for Broadmeadow Brook and Mass Audubon going forward. 

“He was a very jolly person and quite forthright and that’s why I really appreciated his advice and involvement because he told me what he thought,” Cary remarked.

When asked when they learned of the gift, her reply was that it was only a few months ago.

“And I had no idea that John was leaving us such a generous gift,” she noted.

Photo/submitted
Dr. John McCracken circa 1970s.

The 1960s “Brain Drain” 

Originally from the U.K., McCracken received his Ph.D. in Veterinary Medicine in 1963. His dissertation described his discovery of progesterone in cow’s milk. 

In 1963 he joined Professor Ian Bush at the Univ. of Birmingham to continue his post-doctoral studies. In 1964 he was one of many key British scientists that immigrated to the U.S. looking for better research conditions in what was then known as the “Brain Drain.”

His team of 13 from the Univ. of Birmingham, led by Professor Bush, set up new research facilities at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Mass. 

McCracken retired after 34 years in 1998 from the Worcester Foundation as Principal Scientist Emeritus.

McCracken’s Long-term Impact

Dr. Martha Gach, Ph.D., education manager and conservation coordinator at Broadmeadow Brook shared some of the lasting impact that McCracken’s gift will have.

She said that public programs for all ages from preschool story hours, family nature programs, to bird walks for adults (which are her favorite) are quite popular during the “COVID age”.

Their school programs, e.g., Habitats, Exploring Pond Life and the Real Math Real Science series for 7th grade will also benefit from the bequest.

“Our school programs are priced affordably so as to be available to all. John’s gift helps make up the cost gap,” she said.

“We believe in mentoring high school and college youth who are exploring environmental careers…,” she continued.

Gach also shared that they’ve received social media accolades recently for accessibility and trail maintenance – “it can be hard to get external funding for routine maintenance, which is an important aspect of support that endowments such as John’s gift provides.”

Hope for Inspiration

Cary is very grateful for McCracken’s gift and she hopes it will inspire others to consider making similar gifts to organizations that they care about because “a gift like this is such a boost to an organization.”

For more information about the Mass Audubon/Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Conservation Center, visit  https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/broad-meadow-brook.