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September 22, 2017
Ron Magill is a ‘Florida Icon'

Photo: Brian Smith

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Ron Magill is a ‘Florida Icon'

Zoo Miami Goodwill Ambassador, Miami; age 56

Mike Vogel | 5/25/2016

» I’ve put radio collars on lions in the Serengeti. I’ve gone swimming with sea lions off the Galapagos Islands. I’ve tracked tigers on elephant back in India.I’ve tracked polar bears in the Arctic. I tell everybody, if I drop dead tomorrow, don’t anyone shed a tear for me because I have lived more of a life than most people deserve to have.

» A lot of people work with animals because they don’t want to work with people.

» I started as a zookeeper.One day we were out there doing a release. This was the first time in the Western Hemisphere this species of crocodile was hatched in captivity. I’m holding the baby crocodile, and the spokesperson talking is not that impassioned about it so I started talking. ‘This is fantastic. This is great.’ The cameras came to me. The next morning I was called into the director’s office. God rest his soul, he was the founding director of the zoo, Robert Yokel, and he said, ‘OK, take this as a verbal reprimand that you were speaking out of your job description and you’re not to do that without prior approval … from now on you have my approval to speak on behalf of the zoo.’ He was that excellent type of manager, boss, who knew that by making the people under him better, it made himself better.When he passed away, his daughter asked me to bury his ashes at the Tiger Temple. I think it’s important people understand what a great man he was.

» I’ve never really been starstruck except when I first got to meet Jim Fowler because as a little kid I’d watch (‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’) on this little 12-inch black-and-white television set, and I’d watch him doing things like jumping out of helicopters on top of elk, grabbing condors off the cliffs of Chile.And I said I want to be that guy.

» The first time I went to Africa I was in my 20s. I was in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and the great migration was there, and as far as you can see there are thousands and thousands of wildebeests and zebras, and you could feel them walking and the smell. I’m 6-foot- 6, 225 pounds and I just started bawling like a little girl I was so overcome with emotion. Last year, I got back for my 50th trip to Africa.

» The pictures behind you are two kids. I worked with them with Make A Wish. I always put those photographs right there because as I sit at my desk they’re always looking at me. When you think about the silly, stupid things you complain about every day … . I’ve been so blessed to be in a position when I can positively impact kids like these.

» I was very fortunate to do a show for 27 years called ‘Sabado Gigante.’ Sometimes we did really silly things where a purist in my field would say I’m not going to do that. (Host Don Francisco) goes, ‘Ron, the first thing you need to learn about life is you need to be able to laugh at yourself.” From that day on I never hesitated making an ass of myself.

» Jim will tell you the story.We’re going down this river in Panama four hours to this remote rainforest village and we get out of the boat and the guy goes, ‘Ron Magill! Sabado Gigante!’ They actually watched the show by rigging a satellite in the village to a car battery.

» I’m really proud to say that as of today I’ve raised close to $800,000 in the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment. I’m striving to get to $1 million.

» I got bitten by a crocodile.This is politically incorrect, but I want to be honest with you. I’m going to meet this beautiful nurse in that little, short, white skirt with the little nurse’s hat. They wheeled me down to physical therapy and I remember this woman walked in. She goes, ‘Hi, I’ll be part of your physical therapy team.’ And I just went, ‘Thank you, God.’ She was so beautiful. A year later I married her.

» As a kid I was called Lurch, Frankenstein, Magilla Gorilla.I retreated into my books. The high school basketball coach saw me in the hallway. I took a layup in the tryouts and I fell. Coach Jay Bouton worked with me every day after practice. Then he drove me home.By my senior year, I was a starter, I was an honorable mention all-city player. The value of athletics is it does teach you about teamwork.It teaches you to have confidence in yourself. I’ll be forever indebted to him.

Tags: Florida Icon

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