SEATTLE -- Rocky Spencer lived his life in the wild, specializing in the bears roaming neighborhoods.
Whether he was tracking a cougar or trapping and releasing bears in Western Washington, he always brought us into the wild with him.
"Everyone else in our family was pretty predictable," Rocky's brother Scott Spencer said with a laugh. "Rocky wasn't. He was just a good family guy."
Spencer joined the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1978 and came to be known as one of the state's best wildlife biologists.
He loved opportunities that allowed him to remind us that the animals were here first, like the day we tracked cougar kittens with him near Enumclaw.
Spencer, who grew up in Longview, Wash., was quick to smile when he was in the woods working with native animals.
"They've lost one of their greatest advocates," said Brian Kertson, who worked with Spencer for years. "Someone who truly cared deeply and passionately about the long term preservation and conservation."
That passion was infectious. Scott Spencer said he's been getting dozens of calls from people whose lives his brother touched.
"I had a lady call me from Montana last night who I didn't know who she was. Her comment to me was, 'If you're anything like your brother, I love you too.' "
With long time friend and colleague Bruce Richards, Spencer developed innovations in trapping the big animals.
Together, they captured and released countless bears and cougars. But Richards says that's never what it was about.
For Spencer, it was teaching the rest of us to respect, understand and live near wildlife.
"It's the people you touch and affecting change to the good," Richards said. "I think with Rocky, ultimately, down through the years it'll be the kids that came out and were affected and changed. That's what Rocky's legacy will be."
Spencer was killed Saturday in a helicopter accident in Eastern Washington. He was 55.
"Rocky had a love for wildlife," Richards said. "You could feel it just being around him."
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, September 15 at 11 a.m. at Wabash Presbyterian Church, 18325 SE 384th Street in Auburn.
One of Rocky's great loves was his dog Mishka, a specially trained bear and cougar dog. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that rememberances be sent to the Wind River Bear Institute, which raises and trains dogs like Mishka.
Their address is P.O. Box 1299, Florence, MT 59833