Robert Chipley

Robert MacNeill Chipley died on August 31st, 2021, at Kirkland Crossings Assisted Living in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, where he had resided since 2018. He was 81 years old.
Robert was a man of many interests, talents, and pursuits. A scientist and conservationist by profession, he was a lifelong birder who wrote novels in his spare time and loved listening to classical music and opera. He was also a coin collector, a student of American and European history, and spoke both German and Spanish. He traveled frequently to Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean and had a particular fondness for the city of Berlin, Germany.
To his friends and family, he was known as a witty conversationalist and font of knowledge who possessed the ability to recall obscure historical facts and instantly identify almost any piece of classical music by ear.
Most of all, he will be remembered as a loving father, brother, husband, and loyal friend.
Robert was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 20th, 1939, to Julie MacNeill (née Washburn) and Stephen Fox MacNeill. His father died in the Battle of Saipan in 1944. When Robert was 8 years old, Julie married a young Navy veteran named George W. Chipley, who raised Robert as his own. Robert took George’s last name and was soon joined by three sisters: Ann, Joan, and Louise.
Robert graduated from Whitefish Bay High School in Milwaukee in 1957 and received a degree in English Literature from Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1961. Post-college, he began basic training with the US Army in Fort Gordon, Georgia. While purported to be a decent shot, his essentially sensitive and gentle nature did not mesh well with the military and he received an honorable discharge in 1962.
After relocating to New York City, he worked in the publishing industry and resided briefly at the famous Chelsea Hotel. On a trip to Europe, he chatted up a pretty, tall blonde named Elizabeth Schoonover at a train station in Toledo, Spain. They exchanged phone numbers, and when Robert returned to the US more than a year later, he called her up. Known as “Betsy,” she was a graduate of Penn State and Columbia Teachers College who taught ESL at the New School University. They married in 1967.
In the late 60s, Robert pivoted to another lifelong interest: birds and nature, beginning a Ph.D. program in ecology at Cornell University. He and Betsy moved to Ithaca, New York, where their daughter, Abigail was born in 1971. Two months later, the family relocated to Popayán, Columbia, ignoring warnings from well-meaning friends and relatives that their baby would surely perish. There, Robert spent a year and a half completing the field research for his dissertation on the effect of migrant warblers on resident bird species. With their child fully intact, they returned to Ithaca where Robert received his Ph.D. in ecology in 1974.
In 1975, the couple moved to the Washington DC area, where they would spend the next 40 years. Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1976. Soon after, they purchased a modest house in Vienna, Virginia.
Robert worked for more than 20 years at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit, where he was the Director of the Heritage Program. Subsequently, he accepted a position with the American Bird Conservancy, where he was the Director of the US Important Bird Area Program. While on staff, he co-authored the book, The American Bird Conservancy Guide to the 500 Most Important Bird Areas in the United States (2013). During his working years, he was known to his many friends by the nickname “Chip,” and is remembered for the bird walks he led during lunchtime forays to Roosevelt Island.
Outside of work, Robert spent many happy hours birding around the Washington, DC area. He also regularly spent time in the summers hiking and birding on the farm of his in-laws, in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia.
An affectionate and loving father, though an inveterate joker and tease, Robert treated his daughters in much the same way as he had his younger sisters. From childhood through adulthood, his chief interest seemed to be in the details of their lives: He knew the names of all their high school and college friends, took note of every book read or movie watched, and in later years, followed his grandchildren’s lives just as closely. After his daughters left home, he called one or both of them almost daily to find out what they were up to. He was the proudest and most loving of fathers.
After he retired in 2009, he and his wife continued to reside at their house in Vienna. In 2011, Robert was diagnosed with a lesser-known neurological disorder, called normal pressure hydrocephalus, or NPH, which sadly impacted his ability to fully enjoy the later years of his life.
After Elizabeth’s death in 2017, Robert relocated to be near his sister in Waukesha, Wisconsin, moving into an assisted living residence nearby in 2018.
Robert is survived by his two daughters, Abigail Chipley, of Portland Oregon, and Laura Chipley, of New York, New York; his four grandchildren, Willa, Silas, Sylvie, and Tula; and three sisters, Ann Playe, of Palm Coast, FL, Joan Hart, of Waukesha, WI, and Louise Slavicek, of Charleston South Carolina.