- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The occasion: Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), was on the UC Davis campus recently to fulfill her UC Promise for Education. Last October she vowed that if she received $2500 in contributions for UC students, she would wear honey bees. Actually, she not only reached her goal but surpassed it.
Enter Norm Gary, no doubt the world's best bee wrangler until his retirement last year. A UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology (specializing in apiculture or bee science), he showed that his work is definitely buzzworthy: he kept bees for 66 years, researched bees, wrote about them in peer-reviewed publications and popular books, and appeared in movies, TV shows, commercials, and fairs and festivals and other special events.
So, he volunteered to come out of retirement and train a few bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility to land on a nectar-soaked sponge, which he then transferred to Allen-Diaz' hand.
"I wanted to help her communicate the importance of honey bees to everyone, regarding pollination, research on pollination and teaching of bees and I wanted to help her do this by showing her how much fun it is to work with bees," he told videographer Ray Lucas of UC ANR. (See video.) The artificial nectar he used was a special one he patented.
"It was no threat," he said. For the bees it was "like kids in an ice cream store."
Allen-Diaz graciously thanked all her supporters. "I wanted to promise to do something that would highlight this incredibly important part of our ecosystem." (See video.)
He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."
What now? At the young age of 80, he says he's "devoting the rest of my life to music."
He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute.
"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue," he said. "Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend. We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc. We play swing-music style, too. "
Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor. "I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals. And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."
The "B" flat clarinet, of course.