Roy Alexander, the first executive director of the Davidson Lands Conservancy and a longtime Mecklenburg County environmental leader, died suddenly on Sunday. He was 72.
Under Alexander, what had been a fledgling land trust became one of the most productive of its size and a part of the growing town’s fabric.
“There was an absolute metamorphosis of DLC almost since the moment Roy took over as director,” said Jim Fuller, a Davidson lawyer and town commissioner who led the conservancy when it hired Alexander in 2006.
The nonprofit group has helped protect about 400 acres since it formed in 2000, including a wetland threatened by development that is now a nature preserve. It launched World of Wonder, a program that engages families with nature.
Alexander became a go-to expert for town officials and other conservation advocates on planning and environmental matters.
Walks in the woods with the bearded Alexander became quiet lessons in plant identification, the quirks of north Mecklenburg’s rolling topography and why it was worth saving.
“He was just an indomitable spirit,” said former conservancy President Pam Dykstra. “Walking with Roy, he knew every plant he found – there wasn’t a flower he didn’t know. He had just a wealth of information and a wealth of heart and a wealth of love for the land and this area.”
A Davidson College graduate with a master’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, Alexander began his career as a high school biology teacher and later worked as a 4-H agent. He joined the Discovery Place science museum before it opened in 1981 and stayed 20 years, overseeing science education and special programs.
Alexander was a founder of the group that became Mecklenburg’s first Sierra Club chapter. He loved scuba diving, volleyball and his east Charlotte neighborhood. He also served for years on an array of city and county boards, from parks and greenways to stormwater.
“He walked the walk,” said his wife, Sue Peck. “He didn’t shy away from the committees that most people wouldn’t call glamorous.”
Alexander is also survived by two children and seven grandchildren.
“I’ve always told myself we get the government or the community or the society we deserve, and if we are not out there trying to make it better, it’s going to go the opposite way,” he said when the Observer named him a Guardian of the Environment in 2003. “It’s an obligation that every individual has to do what they can for the general good.”
The Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District named him winner of its urban conservation award in 2009.
As the Davidson conservancy’s sole staff member, said current president Rob Van Epps, “Roy was certainly the heart and soul of the organization. Roy was extremely passionate about land conservation, and that passion is what kept us going.”
At the conservancy’s recent annual meeting, Fuller noted, presidents of long-past boards were there.
“It was because of Roy’s personality, his leadership and absolute devotion to protecting the environment that people who served with him retained an interest,” he said. “He was a wonderful person and a wonderful conservationist, and there’s an empty space in my pantheon of heroes today.”