Richard Scott “Dick” Newell touched our lives for 84 years with loyalty, kindness, wit and a great love of nature. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Dudley and Margaret Newell. His brother Bud and sister Peggy were 10 and 15 years older than Dick, who claimed he really grew up as an only child.
When Dick’s family moved to California for the warm climate, which helped his father’s heart condition, they often visited his grandfather’s cabin in the desert. As an “only child,” he spent many hours exploring the surrounding landscape, digging caves, studying the plants and animals and developing the beginnings of his interest in nature.
After graduating from Alhambra High School, Dick joined the Navy. He was assigned to the USS Hubbard, one of the 30 ships unlucky enough to take part in the underwater nuclear test “Operation Wigwam” in May 1955.
Upon leaving the Navy, Dick attended the Los Angeles Police Department Academy and graduated in 1958, the beginning of a 26-year career. Besides being a mentor to many of his officers and a “Big Brother” volunteer, he rode with the Motors Unit, was the Academy Rangemaster and LAPD gun expert, Academy Instructor and the inspiration and organizer of the successful “Ordnance Expo,” which brought in ordnance experts to the LAPD from around the United States and the world. During this time, Dick received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pepperdine University.
He retired from the LAPD and immediately took a three-year position in Sacramento lobbying for gun safety. He was recruited by the Department of Justice and following training at the FBI Academy, he became a DOJ Special Agent Supervisor for 13 years.
Toward the end of his DOJ career, he began to take naturalist’s classes, recognizing that his interests now were more focused in nature. Dick jumped into many volunteer positions, maintained wildlife cameras around the Irvine Ranch and Orange County, lectured, led nature walks and established OC Trackers with his longtime colleague, Don Millar.
Dick Newell’s Teaching Style
By Don Millar
Dick was always teaching. His preferred teaching method was to lead you to the answer, not tell you the answer outright. Dick had a story to help him remember characteristics of many objects in nature and was always willing to share them.
How do you remember the color of the flowers on poison hemlock?
You think of Socrates. He was killed by a brew of poison hemlock, so you envision Socrates laying on his deathbed with all of the color drained from his face, making him look ashen white. The flowers are white. A similar plant, sweet fennel, has yellow flowers.
How do you remember the difference between the male and female flowers on Emory’s baccharis?
You think of a wedding. He wears khaki and she wears a long, white dress. The female flowers are white with the shape of a long, white dress, and the male flowers are yellowish.
Dick liked to trick people when teaching to make a point. I remember one meeting where Dick was asked to demonstrate the willows of Orange County with samples. He included a mule fat sample, which has similar leaves but is not a willow.
I learned a lot from Dick, including how to tie my boots “the police way” so they wouldn’t come loose during our adventures.