Phil Maier, a deeply respected and loved member of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) familypassed on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 after enduring an intense case of a rare and aggressive cancer. He served most recently as the Deputy Director for Marine Resources after 30 years in the agency.
Philip P. Maier grew up near the mouth of the Manasquan River in New Jersey, where he took an interest in fishing and boating from a young age. As a teenager, Phil worked on fishing vessels; “rare was the day” he didn’t spend on the water, he said. It was during those years that he became an avid reader of an outdoors magazine published far from New Jersey—South Carolina Wildlife. He would go on to spend his life studying, protecting and appreciating the wildlife and landscapes featured in those magazine pages.
In 1986, Phil moved to Charleston, South Carolina to begin studies at the College of Charleston. He came to SCDNR by way of his graduate studies on shrimp, joining the agency as a graduate assistant. Over the intervening decades, he worked in each of the key sections of the Marine Division: research, outreach and fisheries management. He studied the health of South Carolina’s tidal creeks with the long-lived SCECAP (South Carolina Estuarine Coastal Assessment) program, spent summers at sea tagging sea turtles on a pioneering in-water survey, oversaw a National Estuarine Research Reserve in the beautiful ACE Basin and led the division’s education and outreach section until 2019.
To strangers, Phil was a man of imposing stature, understated language and stoic expression. But family, friends and colleagues knew him as warm-hearted and passionate outdoorsman with an unexpectedly playful sense of humor. His strong sense of duty and humility guided his work behind the scenes as a public servant who was deeply committed to access and enjoyment of the outdoors he himself so valued.
Phil had a particular love and generosity for mentoring younger staff with an interest in hunting and fishing; he took colleagues on their first hunt, shared game from his own freezer and constantly encouraged his staff to connect with South Carolina’s rich natural resources. He never missed an opportunity to talk turkey season or exchange recipes with the friends he quietly made across the community.
In 2020, Phil became the sixth director of the state’s Marine Division, officially taking over just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country. Under his leadership, the Marine family safely weathered an unprecedented global crisis, the Fort Johnson Marine Center footprint grew with the addition of neighboring protected lands, and landmark legislation ensured more funding for the important conservation work he oversaw.
But Phil’s legacy resides perhaps most impactfully in the colleagues he mentored over a celebrated career, in the calm resolve he cultivated in all he worked with, and in the beloved family he leaves behind: wife Beth and children Katie and Noah.
In Phil’s absence, SCDNR’s Blaik Keppler was recently appointed Acting Deputy Director of Marine Resources—a role she comes to after nearly 15 years with the SCDNR, many of which she spent under Phil’s mentorship. Blaik served most recently as the head of the Marine Division’s Coastal Reserves and Outreach Section and represents the Division’s first female head.
We will share information about an anticipated celebration of Phil’s life and legacy at a later date.