THE CHESAPEAKE BAY blue crab lost a lifelong friend last week, as did all creatures of the estuary, great and small.
L. Eugene Cronin, a pioneer in bay research and pre-eminent student of the enigmatic crustacean, died at age 81. Until recent weeks, he had been busily editing a series of scientific papers on the Callinectes sapidus, or blue crab, for a definitive 'u encyclopedia of the bay's signature shellfish.
"Clean Gene" Cronin, so named for his ever fastidious appearance, studied the ecology of the bay for nearly six decades, laying the foundation for the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland and for the massive Chesapeake cleanup programs that continue today.
Beyond his scientific knowledge, Dr. Cronin possessed an innate ability to communicate about the bay to nearly everyone, from watermen to microbiologists to politicians to the general public.
That educator's gift originally guided him to teach biology at Bel Air High School. But a summer course at the old Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at Solomons in 1941 inspired him to secure an appointment there, as he earned master's and doctor's degrees with studies of the Atlantic blue crab.
Technically retired for years, Dr. Cronin was frequently sought out for his knowledge of the Chesapeake. But he remained in awe of the mysteries of the blue crab. "Everything about the crab is complicated," he admitted. "Every time someone has developed some neat hypothesis, the crabs eventually do something different."
While the Aberdeen native was esteemed in academic circles, ** affiliated with important Chesapeake research facilities, Dr. Cronin regretted the delay in government action to protect the estuary.
He was a close adviser to former U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., who led the movement to restore the Chesapeake in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1994, Dr. Cronin fittingly received the prestigious Mathias Medal for bay science.
Pub Date: 12/22/98