No one in South Florida has a cooler job than Ron Magill. He has parlayed an encyclopedic knowledge of wildlife, boundless enthusiasm, and a prolific gift of gab into a career as not just the spokesman for Miami Metrozoo, but the advocate of all wild creatures anywhere on planet earth.
Thursday, Miami-Dade County honored Magill for 30 years of service. If it seems like you grew up with him, you're right. At 6'7", Magill literally seems larger than life. The fact that he's constantly on either English or Spanish TV and on the radio talking about wildlife makes him a household name.
"You know the best thing for me is meeting so many people and being able to convey that message about wildlife, get people excited about animals," Magill said. "I was a kid who grew up in New York City watching a 12" black and white TV, and back then the only show I had was Wild Kingdom, Jim Fowler, I'd watch Jim Fowler and say, that's what I want to do."
For Fowler, the pioneer of wildlife TV guys, the admiration is mutual.
"Magill's passion is amazing. He's the best," Fowler said yesterday.
Magill and Metrozoo have both come a long way since Hurricane Andrew destroyed the place in 1992. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Magill was constantly on national TV, drawing the country's attention and millions of dollars in donations. The whole nation was touched by the plight of the animals. That's when he made a name for himself, and the zoo was reborn, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
"We became a symbol of survival, not just in the zoo community but in the nation," Magill recalled. "The reality is we are so much better than we ever were before Hurricane Andrew. Zoos cannot be simply an attraction, we have to be a conservation organization."
Over the years, Magill expanded the mission of Metrozoo (which, by the way, will soon be renamed "Zoo Miami") and goes on many wildlife expeditions to places like Africa, South America, and Alaska.
Magill spent a week in Alaska in 2008 and produced a documentary called "Dreams of Alaska." Anyone who saw it saw amazing animals and a guy who was equal to the task of informing and inspiring the audience to appreciate the wildlife. That's what Magill does, whether he's filming a program far afield or talking to the kids at the zoo.
"Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, it's measured by the number of times your breath is taken away, and I have been blessed over and over again," Magill likes to say. It's not an act.
"If I die tomorrow, nobody shed a tear for me because I have lived a hundred lifetimes and a hundred million dreams." That's Ron Magill, and he means it.