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The Man Behind Sanibel's Wildlife Refuge

Written by: Amy Bennett Williams
Publicized in: Fort Myers News Press
Publication Date: March 11, 2007

His full name might not spark instant recognition, but his nickname perhaps the best-known in Southwest Florida probably rings a bell. Ding.

As in Jay Norwood 'Ding' Darling the man for whom the currently troubled but world-renowned Sanibel wildlife refuge was named, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, the ardent conservationist who fell in love with the region's barrier islands in 1935 and had a winter home on Captiva (now part of artist Robert Rauschenberg's island holdings.)

The man and his legacy are celebrated in WGCU-TV's newest Untold Stories documentary: 'Sanctuary: 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge.'

So, who was the man who inspired the movie? Was he as distinctive a character as his trademark flourish of a signature?

He was a big man, with a commanding voice, a formidable intellect, a wry sense of humor and immense energy, says his grandson, Kip Koss, president of the Key Biscayne-based J.N. 'Ding' Darling Foundation.

'(He) lived fully and well,' writes David Lendt in the preface to his book, 'Ding: The Life of Jay Norwood Darling.'

'He tasted the juices of sports and politics, fame and despair, art and power, science and education, journalism and conservation. For more than 80 years he plied his talent for wringing everything possible from life.'

Born in 1876 in
Norwood, Mich., Darling began his cartooning career in 1900 with the Sioux City Journal. After joining the Des Moines Register as a cartoonist in 1906, he began signing his cartoons with the nickname 'Ding' derived by combining the first initial of his last name with the last three letters. Syndicated in 130 daily newspapers, his work reached an audience of many millions with cartoons noted for their wit and political satire, the biography notes. He was awarded Pulitzer prizes in 1923 and 1942, and in 1934 was named the best cartoonist by the country's leading editors.

Concerned with pollution and extinction of wildlife, he worked these themes into his cartoons. An avid hunter and fisherman himself, Darling used his cartoons to emphasize that regulations governing these sports should be observed.

In July 1934, President Roosevelt asked Darling to head the U.S. Biological Survey, precursor to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. In this capacity, Darling battled for greater national attention and spending for conservation. Darling was responsible for securing about $17 million to restore wildlife habitat.

Established in 1945, the J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge originally was known as the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, an arm of the Everglades National Wildlife Refuge, now known as
Everglades National Park.

Darling died in 1962 at 85; in 1967, the refuge was renamed to honor him.

Sources: The News-Press archives,, David Lendt,

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