Joseph Shannon Obituary (2023) – Flagstaff, AZ

One year ago, Joseph Shannon, PhD, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones in Flagstaff, AZ, at the age of 64. Joe, the youngest of four loving sisters and brothers, was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. Joe’s love of the outdoors started with his years in the Boy Scouts. His father helped instill a love for nature by sharing National Geographic with him. Joe was especially intrigued by water and Jacques Cousteau. Following his love of the outdoors Joe mountaineered and rock climbed in the eastern US while dirt bike racing and completing his Bachelor’s degree in marine biology. Joe did research on the Hudson River in NY, then on streams in the backcountry of Alaska, and spent several months as a fishery observer on a Japanese fishing vessel in the Gulf of Alaska. In time, Joe moved to Lander, WY – mountaineering, fly-fishing, and ice climbing while working as an Instructor for National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

He met his future wife, Emma Benenati, on a NOLS course and they enjoyed many outdoor adventures together in the southwest for decades to come. Emma introduced Joe to Grand Canyon and the Colorado River in 1986. From there Joe changed his water focus to river ecology and earned his MSc and PhD in aquatic ecology of the Colorado River throughout Grand Canyon, pioneering river research techniques. Out of research necessity, Joe was fortunate to learn -from Grand Canyon’s best boatmen- to run the Colorado River, mastering all manner of craft from oar boats to motor 37′ S-rigs. Eventually Joe became a research professor at NAU and a professor at Gila Community College, teaching literally every biology course the college had to offer.

Joe was known for giving people opportunities. He mentored students at NAU and on his river trips and worked to expand bicycle road riding and racing opportunities in Flagstaff. He refused to be constrained by the way things had always been done and was continually working on new environmental policy and management ideas. Joe served as leader and Chair of Flagstaff-Northern Arizona Sierra Club and worked tirelessly to prioritize forest protection above damaging recreation projects and to fight climate change. Despite his active and healthy lifestyle, Joe later suffered innumerable health issues and fought to recover from multiple abdominal surgeries. However, among his many talents, Joe mastered the art of never giving up. His determination was displayed when he once rowed himself out of a horrible hole in Horn Creek Rapid when others would have given up and flipped and when he rode his mountain bike the entire 100-mile distance of the White Rim Trail while standing up because of ongoing abdominal pain when he was in the sitting position. Just a couple of days before he died, despite his pain, Joe was cutting and hauling tree branches in his backyard. Joe left us too soon, but we take comfort knowing his life was well-lived.

Published by Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 15, 2023.

34465541-95D0-45B0-BEEB-B9E0361A315ATo plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.

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